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November 11, 2009
There's a big game in Minneapolis: It only seems right that there will be a Grant on the sidelines.
Mike Grant, son of legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant, will lead Eden Prairie (Minn.) High against Wayzata in a state quarterfinal matchup. It is the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.
The two schools, which are about 15 miles apart, have split the last four state championships, with Wayzata winning last year and in 2005 and Eden Prairie winning the two years in between.
Taking after his father, Mike Grant knows a lot about winning big games. He has led Eden Praire to six 5A Championships and has only lost 18 games in 18 years.
But he won't be the only Grant on the field. Taylor Grant - his son; Bud's grandson - is a Division I caliber tight end for the team. A team that is loaded and confident.
"Our kids absolutely expect to win," Grant said. "They've only one lost game ever in high school football. So, it's not like we need convincing that we're pretty good and if we play well we'll win."
This current crop was undefeated as freshmen and sophomores and lost only one game in the past two years, in last year's state quarterfinals, so they are hungry and confident. They are ranked No. 86 in the RivalsHigh Top 100 rankings.
Wayzata is just as strong; it is 9-1 and ranked No. 88.
Both sides respect what the other has accomplished.
"They are multi-dimensional in the fact that if you try to take one thing away from them, they'll have something to hit you somewhere else," Wayzata head coach Brad Anderson said. "The big thing about when you're getting ready for them is, you just have to be very sound, and you have to play almost a flawless football game. They're not going to give you a lot of turnovers, or they're not going to make a lot of mistakes, and so you have to be able to go out there and play that same style of football."
Eden Prairie is deep.
Safety Mitch Hallstrom has nine interceptions, while Nick Harris, a 6-6, 285-pound guard who terrorizes opposing defenses on sweeps, leads a huge offensive line. Junior Brian Athey manages the game well at quarterback and has overcome an early season injury to his throwing shoulder, while the receiving crops features 6-6, 215-pound Brett Ervin, Hallstrom, and junior Rumeal Harris, in addition to Taylor. Senior running back Gage Shaeffer scored three touchdowns in Eden Prairie's victory over 38-7 Minnetonka last week.
Wayzata, 9-1, may lack the Grant pedigree, but it has something Eden Prairie wants - the current state championship. The Trojans capped a perfect season by winning last year's Prep Bowl XXVII. This year's team would have been on track for another perfect season had it not been beaten by Minnetonka 3-0 in overtime playing in bad weather after a short practice week.
Wayzata also more big-name players - in fact, three of the state's top 10 recruits play for the Trojans. The defense revolves around its two two-star linebackers and co-captains: Grant Olson, who has 118 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions; and A.J. Tarpley, a Stanford commit with 76 tackles, three sacks and two linebackers. Tobi Okuyemi is a three-star defensive end and a Nebraska commit who has 15 tackles for a loss and four sacks.
Led by those three major college prospects, the defense has been dominant. The first unit defense didn't give up a single point until week seven against Wisconsin Rapids, and the defense has scored more points, 33, than the first team defense has given up, 31.
While Wayzata's defense returned about half the starters from last year's squad, not a single starter on offense has returned. Still the new starters have performed more than adequately. Sasha Doran has passed for 1,597 yards, 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and he's spread the ball around. While A.J. Troup and Adam Gooley are clearly the go-to receivers, 12 other players have caught a pass. And Doran throws downfield, with all top receivers averaging in double-digits per reception. Meanwhile, it's a balanced attack. For the season, the team has passed for 1,725 yards and rushed for 1,513 yards, with senior tailback Chris Kroeten rushing for 827 yards and six touchdowns.
The combination of last year's state championship and this year's success has the team feeling confident.
"You get to a point where I think your players just expect to play at that level, and even though we lost a lot of starters, a lot of these players were on the sidelines and watched what happened and they have an idea that, yeah, we belong with this group," Anderson said.
The two teams have won the past four state titles, but despite their rankings and close proximity, they have only played each other twice, with Eden Prairie winning both games. Anderson said he learned a lot about the coaching profession from Grant, and the two teams actually have a light practice together a couple of times each summer.
"I'd say it's a very friendly, respectful rivalry," Grant said.
But Friday night, it will be a war.