High school football playoffs: Eagan runs past White Bear Lake

One year ago, Eagan had its first home playoff football game in eight years.

Flash forward 52 weeks and the Wildcats again did something that hasn’t happened in, yes, eight years.

Eagan defensive lineman Hans Anderson, left, and defensive back Jack Kruger, right, and other defenders swarm White Bear Lake running back Aidan Kiritschenko during the first half of the Class 6A first-round game at Eagan High School, in Eagan, Friday Oct. 27, 2023. (Craig Lassig / Special to the Pioneer Press)

​Tate Gage ran for three scores, Carson Schwamb added a couple, and No. 4 Eagan beat No. 5 White Bear Lake 45-27 Friday in the opening round of the Class 6A football playoffs.

The Wildcats last playoff win was in 2015. Their reward is a Nov. 3 trip to top-ranked and undefeated Eden Prairie.

“The seniors didn’t want this to be their last game. Make history and step off this field with a win,” Schwamb said.

They did so with a dominant rushing attack that topped 450 yards.

“I loved how we moved the ball, love how we controlled the line of scrimmage,” said Wildcats coach Nick Johnson. “Carson and those guys were making the right call at the right time.”

Not including the last drive that ended in a kneel down, Eagan’s ground and pound offense scored on every possession. The Wildcats did not have a passing attempt. Schwamb was sacked on his lone dropback; however, White Bear Lake was penalized on the play.

“We just didn’t have an answer. We tried a few different things and they didn’t work,” said Bears coach Ryan Bartlett. “Bottom line is they just were physical, controlled the line of scrimmage. When that happens, you’re in trouble.”

Jack Hansen plays on both lines for the Wildcats.

“Before the game we talked about how the O-line had to get off the ball, and even if we make mistakes personnel-wise or who we’re supposed to be hitting, get off the ball, get our technique right and go, get four or five yards a play. Eventually it just wore them out and we cracked a big one,” he said.

Brooklyn Evans scored on fourth down from the 6 and Gage scored on runs 44 and 41 yards in the second half to maintain a two-score lead.

Austin Gibson had an 8-yard touchdown reception and Vinny Villella had a 43-yard scoring reception for White Bear Lake in the second half.

Eagan defensive back Madden Ison (20) strips the ball from White Bear Lake running back Avian Atkins (3) causing a turnover during the first half of the Class 6A first-round game at Eagan High School, in Eagan, Friday Oct. 27, 2023. (Craig Lassig / Special to the Pioneer Press)

“Every time we caught back up they had a big play,” Bartlett said. “The first drive would have been interesting if we scored. But hats off to them; they deserved it tonight.”

That drive ended in a fumble at the Eagan 24. Seven plays later, including a 48-yard run by Schwamb, the senior quarterback scored from the 1.

“How we were prepared I knew were going to be able to run it,” Schwamb said. “You never know how a game’s really going to go, but after the first drive you kind of set in and it was like, ‘We got this.’”

White Bear Lake countered with a 67-yard reception; a catch Gibson bobbled a couple times before dashing away from a defender to the end zone.

A 7-yard run by Gage capped a 13-play drive and, after a White Bear Lake three-and-out, Schwamb scored again from the 1 to finish a 14-play drive that took almost 7 minutes.

“That’s what I dreamed of,” Johnson said. “I told (offensive coordinator) Mark (Henderson), Can you get me a 7 1-2 minute drive that goes to the end of the half?’ It was almost perfect.”

Villella, who finished with nine catches, had a touchdown reception on the final play of the first half to get the Bears within 22-13.

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