By Bob San
An Osseo fan shouted during last Friday’s Class 6A crossover playoffs game between the host Orioles and Eden Prairie, “Stop them. You know what they are gonna do.”
Well, easier said than done.
The Osseo Orioles knew going into the game that they would have to stop the Eagles’ powerful running game. But in the end, the Eagles’ strength and power were too much and the Eagles earned a 28-18 victory to advance to the state tournament.
“Their power got us tonight,” Osseo coach Derrin Lamker said. “They just overran us with size and numbers and we just could not match up defensively.”
Eden Prairie, with a beefy offensive line and half a dozen athletic and rugged running backs, displayed their power game on its first possession as it used up 10 minutes in an 18-play drive while scoring a first-quarter touchdown. The Eagles also passed effectively in key situations. Quarterback Grant Shaeffer connected with tight end Zach Hovey on an 11-yard scoring pass on a fourth-and-two play to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead entering the second quarter.
Osseo bounced right back. On the ensuing kickoff, Troy Kray found an opening and sprinted 70 yards down the sideline before he was stopped on the Eden Prairie 11.
“I could not quite pull away at the end there. I kind of lost my breath a little bit,” Kray said. “Looking back I wish I could have pulled through and helped my team out. Hopefully they will forgive me for it.”
Of course, Kray did not have to apologize, for he played a superb game as a running back and linebacker. But the Orioles did squander a great chance to tie the game. After Kray’s big return, Bridge Tusler broke up the left side to the one-yard line to set up first-and-goal. But two costly penalties pushed Osseo back to the 21 and the Orioles had to settle for Aaron Bergh’s 32-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Lamker felt his team’s slow start in the first half, not the penalties, was key to his team’s falling behind early.
“That was nothing. We came back,” Lamker said. “We didn’t do too well in the first half. Had we played normal in the first half and we’d be right in it.”
Tusler said the Orioles were in awe of Eden Prairie’s reputation as one of the elite football programs in the state. After all, the Eagles have won seven state championships under coach Mike Grant.
“We were a bit tense in the first half. I think the name Eden Prairie got to us a little bit,” Tusler said. “We fought through it and we were in the game until the end.”
The Orioles hung right in it until late in the game. After Osseo’s field goal made it 7-3, Eden Prairie took advantage of Bjorn Halvorson’s passing skills to set up its second touchdown. Halvorson received a handoff from Shaeffer and threw a 45-yard pass to wide receiver Derek Soderberg. A few plays later, Halvorson scored on an 8-yard run and the Eagles led 14-3 at halftime.
Osseo got back into the game in the second half. The Orioles attempted and recovered an onside kick to open the half. Tusler then had runs of 15, 10 and 12 yards, the final one a twisting run where he reversed courses a couple times and eluded several defenders before he was stopped at the 2. A facemask penalty against EP gave Osseo first-and-goal at the 1. The Orioles cashed in this time as Kray got the call on fourth down and scored on a 1-yard run. Tusler added a two-point conversion run and suddenly Osseo trailed by only three points (14-11).
But Eden Prairie countered behind its rushing offense, capping a drive on a 12-yard touchdown run by Shaeffer on fourth-and-10 for a 21-11 third-quarter lead.
The Orioles did not quit. Tusler made things interesting by returning a punt 52 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
“We did what we needed to do offensively. We moved the ball and got the punt return for a touchdown,” Lamker said. “We thought that would do it but it just wasn’t enough against a team like Eden Prairie. Hats off to them.”
Eden Prairie, leading 21-18, put together another drive and scored on Shaeffer’s 7-yard run on yet another fourth down play as the Eagles won by 10 points.
Eden Prairie had a 361-150 advantage in total offensive yards. The Eagles rushed for 285 yards while holding Osseo’s potent ground game in check. Tusler still finished with close to 100 yards in his final high school game. In the game Tusler had 58 yards on punt returns, 135 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving. He also had seven tackles playing defense.
The Eagles, on the other hand, had numerous contributors. Halvorson ran for 133 yards and had rushing support from several teammates. Shaeffer ran nine times for 54 yards and Tony Anderson gained 53 yards on eight rushes. Jacob Woodring chipped in with 38 yards on five carries.
For the Orioles, the loss ended a season in which they exceeded all expectations. With only three starters returning on both sides of the ball, no one expected the Orioles to contend. But they were ranked in the top 10 all season and finished 8-2, losing only to state powerhouses Eden Prairie and Totino-Grace.
“I am really proud of this team and every single one of these players,” Tusler said. “I respect everybody especially the coaches, who put their hearts and souls into the program. I didn’t know what to expect going into this season but we started to realize how good we were. I am so proud of this team. Even though we lost, there were a lot of good things happened on the field in this game.”
“It was a great effort from Bridge Tusler to every other senior in the program,” Lamker said. “They were not supposed to go .500 this year and look what they did. They ended up 8-2. It was a tremendous effort by our boys. I could not be more proud of them.”