The Prior Lake football team has been here before, taking on a Northwest Suburban Conference team with a state spot on the line.
It's the fourth straight year the Lakers have to go through a NSC school to get to state. This time, fourth-seeded Prior Lake is at top-seeded Champlin Park Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
Prior Lake lost at Blaine in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last season and in 2016. The Lakers beat Blaine at home in 2017 to go to state.
Prior Lake coach Matt Gegenheimer feels the tough schedule the Lakers (5-4 overall) have played this fall has prepared them for the 8-1 Rebels.
"We feel we have played one of the toughest schedules out there, and it's not only hard to win but also hard to stay healthy," Gegenheimer said. "You hope that it all pays off now, and our kids have been outstanding handling the ups and downs of the season. The goal is to be in the state tournament every year, and here we are again, one game away."
Prior Lake has a 3-9 record against NSC teams since 2011, which was the first year the Lakers made state, losing to Totino Grace in the quarterfinals. Prior Lake also made the state quarterfinals in 2012 and 2014.
The winner of the Lakers-Rebels game will get the winner of second-seeded Eden Prairie and third-seeded Rosemount in the state quarterfinals Nov. 7 in Park Center at 7 p.m.
Complete Class 6A playoff brackets are at mshsl.org.
The Lakers overcame some turnover woes to win their playoff opener Oct. 25. Prior Lake turned the ball over three times in the second half, but still held off fifth-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall at home, 20-14.
The biggest recovery of the game came with just over a minute to play. After the Raiders scored with 1:26 remaining, Prior Lake senior Matt Becker sealed the win by recovering the onside kick.
"I thought we played very well in the first half and had a chance to really put them away," Gegenheimer said. "The three turnovers hurt and made the game tighter than it should have been.
"A credit to Cretin and their ability to keep battling," Gegenheimer added. "The guys continue to show resilience and battle to the end."
Senior Sam Emmerich had a pair of touchdown runs in the first half for the Lakers. He scored on a 4-yard run on Prior Lake's first possession of the game.
Emmerich scored from 2 yards out in the second quarter to give his team a 14-0 lead at the break.
Cretin mounted a challenge in the second half. A 61-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter cut the deficit to 14-7. At that point, both teams starting playing some defense.
Six straight possessions, three from each team, were three-and-outs. With just under five minutes to play, Prior Lake made some plays on offense to go up two scores.
Sophomore quarterback Kyle Haas hit senior Austin Gordon on a 16-yard scoring strike to give his team a 20-7 advantage with 2:42 left to play.
Haas hit junior Tyler Shaver for a 21-yard gain on 3rd-and-8 to keep the drive alive. Haas completed four of six passes for 80 yards in the game.
Haas was starting his third straight game for injured senior quarterback Nate Raddatz, who could be back for Champlin Park. Raddatz injured his hand in Week 6, a 20-16 home loss to St. Michael-Albertville.
Shaver led the Lakers on the ground with 16 carries for 80 yards. He also caught two passes for 63 yards. Senior Dylan Bair had 74 yards rushing on seven carries.
Gordon and senior John Brennan led Prior Lake's defense with eight tackles apiece. Senior Logan Hennen had seven, and junior Keaton Sowder and Bair both had six. Hennen and Brennan each had a sack.
Cretin ended the season losing its last five games after opening the year with four straight wins.