Triton's defense dominates semifinal game

MINNEAPOLIS -- Toughness, confidence and preparation met for Triton in its game Saturday night at the Metrodome.

The result was a fantastic defensive team performance, and a trip to the Prep Bowl for the Cobras.

Triton held off Eden Valley-Watkins 12-6 in a Class AA state high school football tournament semifinal game.

While the outcome was a mild surprise to many -- given that EV-W was ranked second in the state AA poll and Triton was sixth -- the low numbers on the scoreboard were definitely a surprise to most everyone.

"It goes down as one of the all-time great ones for Triton," head coach Don Henderson said. "Coach (Mike) Ellingson and the rest of the defensive staff did a great job schematically... And the kids, well they're not pretty but they're bangers. They'll keep hitting you, and they're fighters. Look at our schedule and our game scores, and people wonder how good we are.


"The quarterfinal game (Monday, against Maple Lake) we kind of stumbled through it but the section championship game (against No. 1-ranked Waterville-Elysian-Morristown) and this game, they showed up."

Hitting hard, as usual.

"We knew they were averaging 45 points a game," linebacker Justin Gartner said of EV-W. "We knew we had to come out and hit 'em in the mouth. We knew if we played like we did against Waterville, we could do this."

Safety Logan Spitzack, who intercepted two passes, said, "If you can get the other team to hurt a little, and some teams don't like that."

The Eagles were averaging 30 points by halftime of their previous games, so going scoreless until late in the fourth quarter was unusual for them. Before that, they got inside the Triton 30-yard line three times but never got inside the 20. One drive was stopped by an interception by Spitzack, another on downs when Gartner made a great individual play and another when linebacker Kyle Thaden led a group of Cobras that stopped a quarterback sneak.

Both of those last two were on fourth-and-1 situations.

Gartner said he "just read it the best I could and ran downhill." He found an opening and knifed through, diving to get the ballcarrier by the ankles just as he seemed certain to get the first down.

It was a crucial play because after dominating for 21 minutes, a fumble at their own 28-yard line with 3:09 on the clock threatened to result in the Cobras trailing at halftime. But the defense got it done.


Spitzack forced a punt on another occasion when EV-W's third-down pass reached receiver Joe James but Spitzack jarred the ball away with a strong hit.

"I like playing safety," said Spitzack, also the team's quarterback. "You can read the play and go to it and make a hit like that."

After Jason Jennings ran 39 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, cutting back to the middle of the field after taking an option pitch, Triton led 12-0. When Eden Valley-Watkins went three-and-out on its next possession and threw an interception on a halfback pass on the one after that, the clock started to strongly favor Triton.

With just over five minutes to go, EV-W launched what would become a 75-yard scoring drive. Thaden covered the ensuing onside kick and Triton had three minutes to kill. It didn't quite do it, coming up barely short on a fourth-down play but leaving the Eagles 87 yards to go in 34 seconds, with no time-outs.

An interception by Justin Erdmann clinched the win on the last play of the game; it was the third of the game thrown by a team that had had one pass picked off all season.

In the end, the Eagles' high-powered offense managed only 231 yards, fully half of it in the final six minutes.

"I don't know what they knew," said EV-W head coach Jon Thielen, who said the Cobras looked well-prepared. "I'd have to watch it on film and at this point, I don't know if I ever will."

"It was like they knew what was coming," EV-W senior Tyler Magedanz said. "It was kind of bizarre."

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