A GAME OF INCHES, A GAME TO REMEMBER

Prep Bowl

Class AAAAAA

Centennial 28, Edina 27

 

Centennial wins 6A title after Edina falls short on final play

by Malik Mitchell

The Minnesota Prep Bowl never disappoints.

Two Class 6A teams who nobody would have expected to be playing on Thanksgiving weekend suddenly found themselves holding their collective breath as officials reviewed a two-point conversion at the end of the game.

After scoring a touchdown with 16 seconds left to make the game 28-27, Edina decided to go for the win and attempt a two-point conversion, only to find out that football truly is a game of inches as they fell a couple inches short of the goal line.

That meant Centennial, a team that defied its own odds in getting to the title game, was the 2023 Class 6A Champion.

The Cougars came into the game with just one loss, but their regular season schedule included just two teams who finished the season in the top 10, No. 10 Anoka and No. 7 Maple Grove, who beat the Cougars 41-28. Their regular season opponents were a collective 32-43 on the season.

In the playoffs the Cougars needed overtime to defeat a 5-4 Prior Lake team. Then after a win over Rosemount, they were faced with their toughest opponent yet, No. 3-ranked Lakeville South, who they beat 20-13 to reach the Prep Bowl against an even unlikelier opponent: the Hornets.

Edina started the season 1-3 before slowly transitioning into the hottest team in 6A football down the stretch, taking out the likes of Stillwater and top-ranked Eden Prairie in the state semifinals with a convincing 28-7 win.

Both the Hornets and Cougars colliding in the Prep Bowl meant two things: the parity in 6A football was as prevalent as it has been in recent memory, and two, there was no clear favorite heading into the final match up.

This was great for high school football fans, and boy did the two teams live up to the billing of what the Prep Bowl is all about.

Centennial, with a talented quarterback and strong running  game, looked to flex their muscles early. Edina, with a sophomore quarterback who plays more like a senior, a tough-as-nails running back and a relentless defense, also looked to set the tone early.

Both teams showed their defensive strength in the first quarter as they stopped each other on crucial 4th and short situations. On the Cougars’ second drive, senior Ty Burgoon exploded out of the backfield for a 15-yard gain that sparked a dump pass to senior Marcus Whiting to put them in the red zone. Whiting’s name would be called again, this time from the backfield as he powered his way through for 12 yards for a 1st and goal situation, which he finished off on the 13th play of the drive for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Mason West threw for 244 yards for the Hornets, leading a comeback with under four minutes to play. PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

The Cougar’s defense continued to be stingy after senior Josh Lee intercepted a Mason West pass on the next drive. Centennial’s offense continued to move chains with Whiting leading the way after another 12-yard pass to the outside to put them in Edina’s territory. Senior quarterback Daylen Cummings finished the drive with a 15-yard TD run up the middle to go up 14-0 with seven minutes left in the quarter.

Edina, needing the next score to avoid a three-score difference, replied with a huge pass play to senior Sonny Villegas for 44 yards, later sparking another huge pass  from West to junior Meyer Swinney that landed them on the half-yard line. Senior running back John Warpinski finished the drive taking it up the middle to cut the Hornets lead 14-7 with five minutes left to play. Their momentum shifted to the defense as senior Owen Kemper intercepted a pass at the 18-yard line but they couldn’t convert it into points.

As time drifted off the clock, the Cougars hurried their way down field keyed by a Cummings  connection with Burgoon in double coverage on the right sideline to put them on the 8-yard line. Cummings hurried up the offense and then fired a touchdown pass to Lee to extend their lead 21-7 with five seconds left in the first half.

“We’re going to run the ball, that’s what we’re best at, but we can also throw the ball when the defense shows us,” said Centennial Head Coach Mike Diggins.

Going into the third quarter Edina again was again faced with a pressing situation. Going down three scores against a proven defense like the Cougars would be a hard task to overcome. They answered with Warpinski finding himself in the end zone yet again to cut Centennial’s lead to 21-14 at the end of the third quarter.

Early in the fourth and final frame, Centennial’s defense came up big with a stop on 4th and 2. Taking over, Cummings exploded down the right sideline on a 38-yard gain, which led to Whiting once again finding pay dirt on a 17-yard run for a 28-14 lead.  The Cougar’s defense then seemed to crush Edina’s hopes of a comeback when Senior Will Quick intercepted a pass at their 36.  But the Hornets refused to go down easy.

Centennial QB Daylen Cummings rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown and threw for another 70 yards to lead the Cougars tot he 6A championship. PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

On their next drive, the Hornets converted on three third downs, the last coming on 3rd and 10 on the Centennial 26. West dumped a pass to Alex White who scampered 20 yards for the first down to the Cougars six. West then dropped back again, but couldn’t find an open receiver and instead kept it himself and receiving strong blocking, scored to cut the deficit to seven points with 3:47 left to play.

But they still trailed by a touchdown and the Cougars had the ball. But the defense that helped get the Hornets to the finals, stepped up and made a huge stop on third down forcing a punt.

They received the ball with 44 seconds left at their own 32-yard line. With 68 yards in front of them and only 44 seconds, things looked bleak for the Hornets. Running a no-huddle offense West completed a 15-yard pass to Sonny Villegas and a 10-yarder to Meyer Swinney to get the ball into Cougars territory. From the Cougars 43 West ran for 7 yards and was tackled out of bounds resulting in a personal foul against Centennial and an additional 15 yards, bringing the ball to the Cougars 21. From there West launched a pass to the left area of the end zone, hitting a leaping Villegas for a touchdown with just 16 seconds left.

Suddenly the Hornets coaching staff was faced with a decision. Kick the field goal and force overtime, or go for the win. They opted to go for the win and ran a counter play with the Edina player lunging near the goal line. Edina players raised their arms in victory and Centennial players waved theirs as if they stopped him short. After review, the player was indeed inches short of the goal line and Centennial secured the hard-fought win, capping off their improbable season with a state championship.

“It’s mixed emotions,” said Edina Head Coach Jason Potts on the final play. “It was a play we’ve never shown but practiced all year. To think it was in then showed that it wasn’t was just pure sadness”.

For the Cougars, it was pure elation.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Cummings.

In the end, both teams put on a fantastic show for high school football fans. More importantly, their season stories were ones of resiliency. Despite never being considered a favorite, they came out on top again and again, proving that focus+dedication+ execution= success.

The game will go down in the books as one of the better ones. For Edina, it’s a big step forward as a football program. For the Cougars, it’s a well-deserved title for a program that rallied an entire community to get behind them. The Cougar fan base was only matched by Edina’s, so for those two teams to get to the pinnacle of the season was rewarding for more than just the players and coaches. For students, parents and community members, they were part of a season that will be remembered, and a game that will be talked about for a long, long time.

Centennial 0  21  0  7 – 28

Edina   0  7  7  13 – 27

Stats:

Rushing: Centennial – Cummings 13-119-TD, Whiting 16-55-2TD, Harper 22-74. Edina – Warpinski 25-81-2TD, Sorrell 1-24, West 3–5, TD.

Passing: Centennial –  Cummings 6-12-1-70-1. Edina – West 13-26-2-244-1.

Receiving: Centennial – Burgoon 3-41, Whiting 2-21, Lee 1-8. Edina – Villegas 7-142-TD, Swinney 3-21, Sorrell 1-30, White 1-20, Warpinski 1-3.

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