As part of the new Class AAAAAA bracket format, Blaine, representing Section 5, traveled to No. 1 ranked Edina, representing Section 6, Nov. 2 and returned home with a closer-than-expected 30-27 loss.
The Lake Conference versus Northwest Suburban Conference game put two unfamiliar foes together which Blaine coach Tom Develice said gave the players, “an opportunity to just line up and play.”
Bad luck for Blaine translated into two interceptions returned for touchdowns to spark Edina’s 17-0 start through the middle of the second quarter.
Blaine climbed back into the game on a Kunle Ayinde 80-yard touchdown run 12 seconds after the Hornets returned an interception 80 yards to make it 17-7. Ayinde finished with 108 yards on 10 attempts, but Bengals junior quarterback Alex Copa struggled to find room to run. He ran the ball 19 times for 15 yards, while throwing for 204 yards on 19-of-34 passes. Tyler Drewlo pulled in seven catches for 62 yards and Naji El-Arabi had six receptions for 36 yards.
As time expired in the half, Blaine’s Caleb Butler blocked a field goal and Sam Kriegler scooped up the loose ball for a 76-yard touchdown to make it a 17-13 game at halftime.
Given all that transpired in the opening half, Develice said the staff felt really good heading into the break.
“Knowing that we gave them 14 points from the interceptions and then had the huge momentum swing going into halftime, [the blocked field goal for a touchdown] really electrified our sideline and fans,” he said.
Momentum carried over into the second half as Copa found senior receiver Joe Robel on a 72-yard touchdown. The long score gave Blaine its first lead of the game, 20-17, with 6:17 left in the third quarter.
There’s a reason Edina was ranked number one as quarterback Mark Handberg passed for two touchdowns to Marley Allison, the first coming from 35 yards out to retake the lead 24-20 with 4:34 left in the third quarter. The pair hooked up again, this time from 28 yards out, to make it 30-20 with 9:13 left in the fourth quarter.
Blaine mixed up defensive schemes to keep the Hornets guessing with seven-man blitzes with man-to-man coverage on their receivers. It gave the same look, but dropped into a zone coverage to change things up but that didn’t seem to faze the Hornets in the end.
“Our defensive coaches and defensive players executed a great game plan,” Develice said. “We couldn’t be more proud of our players and coaches. We had a great game plan, worked hard all week and played our hearts out on the field. That’s all we could ask for.”
Copa scored on a goal-line plunge to make it 30-27 with 5:19, but that was as close as the Bengals could get.
Develice felt the way Blaine’s defense performed all season, it could play with anyone. “We really thought we could put some pressure on them,” he said. “Offensively we thought we could move the ball, we just couldn’t afford to turn the ball over and unfortunately that’s what we did early in the game.”
The two teams are part of the new big-school class, representing the largest 32 schools in the state, based on enrollment.
Edina earned the top seed in the state tournament and faced Rosemount in the opener.
Jason Olson is at email@example.com