It took Totino-Grace one half of football to figure out that it didn’t need to do anything special to beat Osseo. The Eagles ditched the fancy plays and relied on an immovable defense to grind out a 14-7 victory.
The victory clinched the Northwest Suburban Conference’s West Division championship for the Eagles (5-0, 8-0) in their first year in the league.
Osseo (4-1, 5-3) entered the game as the surprise team in the conference, its only losses the result of forfeiting its first two victories due to an ineligible player. But the Orioles, despite the presence of perhaps the metro’s most valuable player in running back Bridge Tusler, struggled to move the ball against Totino-Grace’s furious defense.
“That is the best team in the state, bar none,” Osseo coach Derrin Lamker said. “We missed a few blocks, but they are just so tough.”
Totino-Grace’s defense, rock-solid before halftime, was impenetrable in the second half. It held Osseo without a first down in its first five possessions.
As bad as things were after halftime, Osseo could not complain about its start.
The offense staked the Orioles to an early 7-0 lead when Tusler got behind the Totino-Grace defense and caught a 62-yard pass from Garrison Gillard.
Then defense took over. Osseo made Totino-Grace quarterback A.J. LaPanta’s uncomfortable each time he dropped back to pass, sacking him three times.
Totino-Grace was even more effective. The Eagles shut down Tusler, who rushed for just 10 yards, and did not allow Osseo to get within 30 yards of the end zone for the rest of the game.
The No. 1, Class 5A Eagles broke through and tied the game 7-7 in the final minute of the second quarter. Kez Flomo scored on a four-yard run with 47.5 seconds left, capping a 43-yard drive.
Buoyed by its late first-half score, Totino-Grace asserted itself in the second half and gradually won the battle of field position. Running on nearly every play, the Eagles surprised Osseo’s gritty defense when LaPanta found Mason Kaliszewski for a 20-yard touchdown pass over the middle for 14-7 lead with 5:22 left.
“That was my fault,” said Tusler, who also plays safety and had his eighth interception of the year. “I’ve got to be better on that play.”
Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson gushed after the game about the play of both teams.
“Let me tell you, Osseo is legit. They’re physical, they’re well coached,” Ferguson said. “But we executed when we had to. That was a battle of wills.”