Totino-Grace ends Panthers state tourney hopes again

Spring Lake Park (9-1) tangled with Totino-Grace (10-0) in yet another section game between the two former North Suburban Conference rivals.

Spring Lake Park rode a nine game winning streak into the Section 4AAAAA final and had aspiration of returning to the state tournament in consecutive seasons.

That idea fell short as Totino-Grace did just enough to preserve a 28-6 win in Fridley Nov. 2.

The Eagles reached the state tournament for the ninth time in 10 season. Totino-Grace built  a 14-0 halftime lead, scoring just before the break as Panthers quarterback Austin Swenson’s lateral pitch turned into a fumble, which the Eagles recovered on the two-yard line. They scored on the next play for the halftime total.

The Panthers started strong in the second half as Gabe Dahl returned the kickoff 53-yards and scored three plays later from 17 yards out to make it 14-6.

The fourth quarter belonged to Totino-Grace who scored twice for the final tally while Spring Lake Park stalled twice on close fourth down plays.

Spring Lake Park used its running game well for 197 yards on 46 carries while going 0-for-3 through the air. Junior Eji Ejiya led the Panthers with 79 yards on 19 carries while senior Jared Evans picked up 65 yards. Swenson had 24 yards and Dahl added 29 yards.

Ejiya, a standout in the middle of the defense, piled up a team-high 13 tackles and classmate Grant Walter added 12 tackles.

Totino-Grace has had the Panthers number in recent years. The Eagles won last year’s meeting 20-7, also in Fridley and haven’t lost to the Panthers in at least 12 straight games going back to the 2003 Section 4AAAA semifinal.

Jason Olson is at [email protected]