Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – You’ll probably have to go back a long way in the history books to figure out the last time Eden Prairie lost two football games in a season, much less a regular season.
Losing the last two games of the year heading into the 2012 postseason gave the Eagles plenty of fuel as they rebounded for five straight wins on the way to another state championship. The 2012 season was an interesting one for the football powerhouse west of the Twin Cities. They got off to a dominant 6-0 start, then the rumors started swirling that coach Mike Grant might bolt for St. John’s University after legendary coach John Gagliardi retired.
Grant opted to stay at Eden Prairie, where he is also athletic director, instead of going to run the program where he played in college that has a long-standing tradition of competing for national titles. He’s a legend at Eden Prairie and gets hundreds of kids to come out every year for football and battle for what ultimately ends up as 22 positions. Here’s a rather sickening statistic: Since 2005, the Eagles have played in five of the last seven Prep Bowls. They’ve won three state championships.
It’s a big reason Eden Prairie, despite finishing third in the Lake Conference in 2012 with a 2-2 record, should be a contender again this year. Edina went a perfect 4-0 to win the league title and Wayzata was next at 3-1.
One of the biggest surprises last season came when Edina went to Eden Prairie and not only beat them, but handled them 17-6. That came after the Hornets got an impressive 20-17 win over Wayzata, another Lake Conference juggernaut.
Just look at the schools and you’ll see why the Lake Conference is one of the toughest leagues to win every year. There’s a good bet between Eden Prairie, Wayzata, Edina, Hopkins and Minnetonka that all of them are top 10 teams at some point during the football season.
Will Eden Prairie Return To The Top?
The Eagles finished third in the league last year, but won five straight games to end the season and capped it off with a 28-7 win over Rosemount to win its first Class 6A title. The Eagles tire you out with their depth, physicality on defense and run balance on offense.
Grant has always relied on size and toughness up front, and this year won’t be any different. The two names to keep an eye on early are defensive end Anthony Anderson and running back Charlie Venable.
Can Wayzata, Edina Contend Again?
Wayzata put a win streak together at the right time to get to the 6A state semifinals before falling to Eden Prairie 21-7 last year. But Brad Anderson is one of the top coaches in the Twin Cities, and there’s a reason why his squad always seems to be right in the mix as a contender at the end of the season.
The Trojans always seem to be about making big plays. They’re known for a fast defense and the big-play ability on offense, but they’ll have to do it with plenty of new faces this year. Look for Sam Theisen to take over at quarterback, and Anderson will establish a deep backfield like he has every year during the squad’s fall camp.
Don’t try to tell it to Edina, but the Hornets were the surprise of the Lake Conference last year. Before losing to Rosemount in the 6A state semifinals, Edina’s only loss last year came to Totino-Grace, the eventual 5A state champions. The most impressive thing about Edina’s season last year was that of their second half wins over Minnetonka, Hopkins, Wayzata and Eden Prairie, three of those four were on the road.
Edina got itself ready for the postseason by being battle tested and beating some of the best in the Twin Cities away from home. The Hornets have a loaded junior class that should pay off when things get rolling this season.
As for the scheduling, it’s always a bit tougher for Lake Conference teams with just a five-team league. The teams that are lucky enough to find four non-conference opponents fill out their schedule, but most aren’t that fortunate and play seven-game regular seasons.
Eden Prairie starts out with Elk River, Prior Lake and Totino-Grace before getting Edina in its league opener. Wayzata has a brutal start with Rosemount, Lakeville South and Anoka before their Lake Conference opener with Hopkins. The Royals face Chaska, Apple Valley and Maple Grove before starting Lake Conference play against Minnetonka.
There’s a great match-up every week in this league and there’s likely to be a lot of shifting throughout the season. Late July is always too early to pick a favorite, I just wish there was a three-sided coin between Eden Prairie, Wayzata and Edina. And with that in mind, you can bet Hopkins and Minnetonka will both play with a chip on their shoulder this fall since it’s easy to be the underdog.