Champlin Park dominated the first half of its Class 6A state quarterfinal matchup with Rosemount in every facet but on the scoreboard.
That changed in the second half.
Starting with a 7-minute march to open the second half, the Rebels scored on their first three drives on their way to a 34-7 win over the Irish on Thursday night at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park.
That moves Champlin Park into a semifinal game Thursday night against defending state champion Lakeville North.
Rosemount got a 24-yard touchdown run by Christian Graske midway through the second quarter and trailed 13-7 at halftime. It was a score that didn’t sit well with the Rebels.
“First half we were getting what we wanted,” Champlin Park quarterback Jaice Miller said. “We just weren’t executing when we were down by the goal line. We knew we had the ball going into the second half and if we scored and put up two touchdowns, I was confident in our defense.”
On the opening possession of the second half, Champlin Park drained nearly seven minutes off the clock in an 11-play drive. The final play was a connection between Miller and running back Darius Givance, who took a screen pass 22 yards for a touchdown.
Then it was the Rebels defense’s turn to show its teeth. On the third play of Rosemount’s ensuing drive, junior Cam Hammonds picked off an Irish pass, setting the Rebels up just outside Rosemount’s red zone. Moments later, Miller cut through the Irish defense for a 25-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 27-7.
“They’ve been doing that all year,” Miller said of the defense forcing turnovers. “It takes so much pressure off me when I go out there, I know they have my back. For them to get turnovers, it puts us in great field position to go score.”
The Rebels forced a quick three-and-out, and a muffed Irish punt left them knocking on the door again, and yet again Miller made a big play. He connected with senior wide receiver Brock Johnson for a 24-yard score in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.
Miller ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more. His performance was needed with the Rebels missing leading rusher Shawn Shipman.
“We were waiting for Jaice to step it up. I texted him earlier today and said, ‘Listen, Shawn’s out, we’re putting the ball in your hand. I know you are going to do great, let’s go out and play,” Champlin Park coach Nick Keenan said.
Miller said it was the best game of his career, and Keenan said it may have been the Rebels’ best game of the season.
“Our guys play with a lot of confidence,” Keenan said. “The end of the second quarter on was just nothing for them.”
The defense forced two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Champlin Park hasn’t allowed more than 20 points since September. Next up, a semifinal matchup with Lakeville North.
“I’m so excited. I’ve been wanting to play there all year,” Miller said. “I go every year to watch the state games, so for me to be playing there next week is crazy.”
And playing the defending state champs is just what he was hoping for as well.
“I want them,” he said.