Totino-Grace punches ticket to Prep Bowl XXXI

BY Ryan Schleicher – SUN NEWSPAPERS

Charlie Miller is tackled by senior Richard Seado from Bemidji. (Photo courtesy MSHSL)
Charlie Miller is tackled by senior Richard Seado from Bemidji. (Photo courtesy MSHSL)

Totino-Grace High School has officially punched its ticket to the class 5A state championship football game, Saturday night against Owatonna.

Totino-Grace ran over Bemidji scoring 23 unanswered points, winning 23-0 last Saturday at the Metrodome. In a game that saw defense set the tone early, offense capture momentum, and timely turnovers become the major difference, Totino-Grace won the battle of wills.

Early on this game looked as though it was going to be an offensive struggle throughout as made evident with the difference only being a Totino-Grace field goal after the first quarter. Bemidji’s defense played very aggressively doing all they can to limit any air attack Totino tried to display and wreaked havoc on the running game of Totino-Grace in many ways.

Senior running-back Mason Kaliszewski was easily having one of his best games of the season when he was lost to an injury to his chest early in the second quarter and never returned.

Later, Kez Flomo, Totino-Grace’s second leading rusher on the season was slowed down by suffering a leg injury. With injuries happening to a couple key offensive playmakers one would think drastic offensive changes would need to take place to compensate.

“I just told the guys to remain calm in play within ourselves, if we do that, good things will happen,” said Jeff Ferguson, Totino-Grace’s head coach.

Quarterback A.J LaPanta must have received the message from his head coach as he tormented Bemidji through the air, connecting to Charlie Miller for two of his three touchdown passes one of which being a 22-yard strike to Miller in the corner of the end zone and another being a 54-yard strike to Lance Benick. LaPanta, who has been seen as more of a game manager rather than a threat, got an opportunity to display his talents on the biggest stage the Eagles have played so far this season.

“It’s a lot more fun throwing touchdowns,” said LaPanta. Defensively the Eagles were solid as well forcing two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and most importantly keeping Bemidji from doing any damage on the scoreboard.

The Owatonna Huskies stand in the way of the Eagles capturing another state championship. The Eagles and the Huskies will be a game in which the question of what happens to an unmovable object when hit by an unstoppable force should be answered.

This class 5A championship game will see two schools putting their undefeated records on the line to determine who the best in the state is — something has got to give. Including the playoffs, Owatonna has outscored its opponents 482-183 averaging 40 points per game while only giving up an average of 15 points per game.

That has Totino-Grace’s attention. “We know they’re a good team, we will prepare and we will be ready,” said Ferguson. In comparison, Totino-Grace has outscored its opponents 423-105. That is a scoring average of 35 points per game and holding their opponent to just 9 points.

No more statistics need to paint how much of a powerhouse matchup this is going to be. This class 5A championship game should have fans on the edge of their seats, cheering profoundly, biting their nails continuously as every play could be the determining factor of the game. This is state tournament time, isn’t this what it is supposed to be? Football fans rejoice, we could not ask for a better state championship matchup.

If you would like to be part of all the Prep Bowl XXXI excitement you can see Totino-Grace square off against Owatonna at (corrected) 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Metrodome.