On Oct. 20 the Central Minnesota Conference football championship was at stake.
Friday's rematch between the Section 8 champion Pierz Pioneers (11-2) and the Section 5 champion Eden Valley-Watkins Eagles (12-1) is worth much more.
That's because whichever team wins Friday's game will capture the coveted prep football trifecta -- conference title, section title and state title.
It's also the first state Class 2A Prep Bowl appearance for both, making Friday's 1:15 p.m. game at the Metrodome the biggest of both schools' programs.
"You never know what is going to be the deciding factor in a game like this," said Eagles coach Ray Tri. "In the last two games we've had more turnovers than our opponents, but still won.
"Most of the time it's turnovers or penalties, but it's just hard to tell. When you know each other this well it could be a low-scoring game or a high-scoring affair. You just don't know."
The last time the teams faced each other it was a high-scoring affair as Pierz handed EV-W its only loss of the season 35-28.
"The best motivator is the revenge factor," said Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp. "But on our side we know we can beat them. We told the kids the game could have gone either way. If we would have beaten them 28-7, I would be more worried about the team looking past them. But the game was 14-7 at halftime, then we exploded for 28 in the third quarter."
In the final Associated Press rankings, Pierz was No. 3 and EV-W was No. 5.
One reason the Eagles had a successful year was their balanced offensive attack. Shane Henfling threw for 1,770 yards and 21 touchdowns on 108-of-178 passing. The team also rushed for 2,914 yards on 496 carries.
Pierz Pioneers vs. Eden Valley Watkins Eagles
What: Class 2A state football championship.
Where: Metrodome, Minneapolis.
When: 1:15 p.m. Friday.
Leading the rushing attack is senior Sean Topp with 1,855 yards, Adam Hiltner added 205 and Jason Huschle 206.
"I think their strength is still their passing game," said Pohlkamp. "The first half of the year they didn't have to throw that much because they were beating teams so bad. But this is the best running team they've had in many years."
In the Oct. 20 game, Pierz held the Eagles to 60 rushing yards. On the other side of the ball, Christian Even rushed for 186 yards and four touchdowns and Warren Gall added 193.
"Even looked pretty fast on grass when we saw him a month ago, but he's very fast on turf," said Tri. "He's an excellent back, but it all starts with their offensive line. They have a good line on both sides of the ball. That gets the whole thing started. Once Even turns the corner he's dangerous. We need to get him before he squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage."
Gall, who didn't play in the Pioneers' 20-6 victory over Waterville-Elysian-Morristown last week, is better and may play Friday. His presence will help against an Eagles defense that gave up just 11.3 points a game.
In the entire season EV-W gave up just 63 points in the third quarter. Twenty-eight of those came against Pierz.
"They have good athletes on the defensive side," said Pohlkamp. "These are two very similar teams that play wide open and can run inside and outside. Our styles are a little more wide open."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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