Led by a defense that went from cautious to crazed, Lakeville North ended upstart Rosemount’s state tournament surprise, crushing the Irish 28-7 in the Class 6A semifinals.
The Panthers, in the first year of Class 6A, qualified for the Prep Bowl for the first time since Lakeville split into two high schools in 2005. It played offense with its defense, attacked constantly and forced the Irish out of its game plan.
“There are times when I watch these guys and I think back to when I played football,” said Lakeville North coach Brian Vossen, who played linebacker and 1998 graduate of Lakeville. “I don’t think I could have played with these guys. They’re too good.”
The game didn’t start the way it finished. For the first quarter, Rosemount looked much like the team that upset No. 1-ranked Edina one week earlier.
The Irish took the opening kickoff and drove 68 yards in 12 plays, taking a 7-0 lead on a one-yard run by Ali Al-Khatib. Quarterback Jackson Erdmann was 5-for-5 passing on the drive, hooking up with receiver Sean Kalinowski four times.
“That’s okay,” Vossen said. “They beat us with little hitches. We invite that. They took advantage.”
After stopping an ensuing long Lakeville North drive on its own three-yard-line, things were looking rosy for Rosemount. And then the luck ran out on the Irish.
Lakeville North scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and had two more called back because of penalties. Jamiah Newell scored from a yard out to tie the score 7-7 and Mitch Johnson picked up a fumbled pitchout by Erdmann and returned it eight yards for a 14-7 halftime lead.
“We feel like we can shut down any offense in the state,” linebacker Mitch Johnson said. “You never know who’s going to be the one to step up and make a play, but someone always does.”
Offense was in short supply for both teams in the third quarter as they combined for more punts -- six -- than first downs -- three -- all by Lakeville North.
Lakeville North’s offense broke out in the fourth quarter when Creighton hit Brandon Morgan for a 33-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead. Newell put the final touch on the victory with a 53 yards touchdown run 4:56 left in the game.
The Panthers' defense did not allow a first down after halftime until there was 6:45 left in the fourth quarter. It was the only flaw in Lakeville North’s otherwise defensively perfect second half, in which the team allowed just 11 total yards.
“This,” Vossen marveled, “is the best defense I’ve ever coached.”