MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minutes after guiding Eden Prairie to its eighth state championship under his watch, coach Mike Grant was already talking about next season’s opener against Elk River.
“All I know is on Monday we’re getting ready,” he said Friday on the Metrodome field as his players celebrated their 28-7 victory over Lakeville North. “On Monday we’ll be in the weight room getting ready for Elk River that we open up with on Thursday before Labor Day.”
Whether Grant will be on the sidelines for that game is another question.
The long-time Eagles coach, who has overseen the program’s dominance at the big-schools levels for the past few decades, has been rumored to be a candidate to replace legendary St. John’s University coach John Gagliardi. College football’s all-time winningest coach announced his retirement earlier in the week.
“You can’t believe everything that people say,” said Grant, a friend and former player of Gagliardi’s. “Obviously I have great love for John Gagliardi and St. John’s … but I don’t know if they’re even interested. They may say they want to have some young buck that comes in there. I’m old school, so they may have a different vision.”
Eden Prairie’s path to the state title this year was a bit of a different vision than what some expected. After losing their final two games of the regular season, Grant said some people were writing off his team.
He used that criticism to motivate his players, who responded by grinding out 309 rushing yards against Lakeville North and shutting down the Panthers on defense.
Dan Fisher ran for 148 yards and a touchdown to lead the Eagles to their second-straight state title. Quarterback Grant Shaeffer attempted only two passes all night but ran for 23 yards and a score. Jacob Woodring and Anthony Anderson also had rushing touchdowns for the Eagles.
“That’s classic Eden Prairie football, and we’ve been doing that all year sticking to the ground game and it worked tonight,” Shaeffer said.
Zach Creighton threw for 100 yards and a touchdown for Lakeville North but was intercepted three times. The Panthers (11-2) scored 140 points in the playoffs to advance to the title game but struggled all night to move the ball against Eden Prairie’s stingy defense. Lakeville North had 119 rushing yards, although 59 of them came on two long runs in the game’s final minutes.
Creighton’s 37-yard run with 3 minutes to play was Lakeville North’s longest offensive play of the night.
“Even at halftime, down 13-0 our kids fully believed that we were going to get that quarter and score those two, three touchdowns like we did in the past, and we didn’t,” Lakeville North coach Brian Vossen said.
While Vossen hugged each of his sullen players as they filed from the locker room, Grant was back on the field downplaying the significance of eight state titles. Instead, he focused on the story behind this year’s championship team.
“This group was special, and we talked about being special all year,” he said. “We lost two, and people wrote us off and said we weren’t very good. Why they’re special is they overcame all of that and still were state champs.”
They’ll also be special if this indeed turns out to be Grant’s final year at the program’s helm.
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