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Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Being both, however, is a tough combination to beat.
Undefeated Totino-Grace parlayed a dominant first half and some good fortune in the second half to beat Spring Lake Park 28-6 in the Section 4, 5A championship game.
The victory sends Totino-Grace (10-0) to the state tournament for the ninth time in the past 10 years.
In the first half, Totino-Grace unveiled a passing game that the Eagles had kept hidden for much of the season. Quarterback A.J. LaPanta, a competent game-manager but rarely a weapon, completed seven of 12 passes for 94 yards, including a pair of clutch third-and-long passes to wide receiver Charlie Miller.
“This time of year, you have to do what it takes to win,” said LaPanta, who finished 8-for-14 for 123 yards. “We knew they’d pack in the middle, and we thought we could take advantage.”
The Eagles took a 6-0 lead on their opening drive, a 13-play, 63-yard march that ended with a Mason Kaliszewski 2-yard run.
Luck played a factor in Totino-Grace’s second touchdown. One play after fumbling deep in Spring Lake Park territory, the Eagles got a break when Panthers quarterback Austin Swenson’s pitchout hit nothing but air. Totino-Grace recovered at the Spring Lake Park 2 with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining in the half. Kai Barber turned the misplay into a touchdown one play later for a 14-0 halftime lead.
“That was a gift,” Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson said.
Spring Lake Park started the third quarter with a 53-yard kickoff return by Gabe Dahl. The Panthers went 44 yards in three plays, scoring on a 17-yard run by Dahl to cut the deficit to 14-6.
The Panthers then twice threatened to tie the score, moving quickly down the field but missing by inches on two fourth-down chances deep inside the Eagles’ red zone.
“If we just could have gotten one of those, it might have been a different game,” Spring Lake Park coach Jeff Schlieff said.
Surviving those close calls, the Eagles closed out with touchdowns from Kaliszewski (7 yards) and Barber (46 yards).
“It all about perserverance,” Ferguson said. “We didn’t give in when things got tough.”