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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/17/2012 9:04:38 AM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

Since Week 3 of the football season, very few teams have been playing the level of defense displayed by the Lakeville North. Since a 24-7 victory over the Eastview Lightning, the Panthers defense has been yielding an average of around six points a game, including three shutouts. Thursday night in the Class 6A state semifinals at the Metrodome, the defense dominated again, helping send head coach Brian Vossen’s team to the Prep Bowl for the first time since Lakeville split into two high schools in 2005.

“The key to our defense is our speed,” said junior defensive end Gregory Menard. “We fly to the ball and make big plays.”

“I don’t think many offenses can handle the kind of speed our defense brings,” said senior defensive end/linebacker Karl Finkel. “We like to hit. Our pursuit is what stops a lot of offenses.”

To get to the Prep Bowl, the Panthers had to get past conference rival and surprise semifinalist Rosemount. Just like during the season, the North defense started out slow. North gave up nearly 50 points in its first two games. Both games were wins, but the defense knew they had to come together.

“Those first couple of games we weren’t totally together,” said senior linebacker Alex Wood. “After that we got more comfortable playing with each other. We had a lot of guys returning, but not necessarily in the same spots.”

On the opening drive Thursday, the Irish mounted a 12-play, 68-yard drive that ate up more than five minutes. The Irish mixed the run with an effective short passing game to take it to the Panthers’ defense early. A one-yard touchdown run by Ali Al-Khatib put the Irish on the board first. To say the Panther defense woke up after that opening drive would be an understatement. They gave up a total of 35 yards the rest of the game. Not the rest of the quarter, not the rest of the half, the rest of the game.

“On that first drive we didn’t come out that hot,” said Wood. “Rosemount came out hot. We knew they wanted to beat us and we battled that first drive. We learned from that and we came out and just said ‘They can’t get any more.’ Our energy was a lot higher after that.”

“We got a little excited at the beginning and once we settled down we played pretty good,” said Menard.

“At first we were a little shaky, but as soon as we adjusted our coverages and calmed down we got back into our rhythm,” said Finkel.

They didn’t just shut down the Irish offense the rest of the game, they put up points as well. With the score tied at seven late in the second quarter, Matthew Schiefelbein scooped up a fumble and returned it eight yards for the go-ahead score. The South Suburban Conference co-champions never looked back.

The front seven didn’t give the Rosemount offense any room to run and very little time to pass. Sophomore linebacker Jesse Cardenas led the North defense with six solo tackles and Finkel chipped in five and a half tackles and one and a half sacks.

“Our mindset was on first down, we were going to stop the run,” said Menard.

The Irish defense hung in there for three quarters, but North senior quarterback Zach Creighton’s scrambling, rushing and accurate passing set the tone. The running of junior Jamiah Newell and his 100 yards on the ground was too much, especially in the fourth quarter when the Panther offense scored twice to put the game away.

Those two fourth-quarter touchdowns were more than enough for the defense as they – like they have all season - took the opposing offense out of its game. North walked out of the Dome with a 28-7 win. They will need one more big effort to take home the title as they will face off with former conference foe Eden Prairie and the Eagles’ punishing running game.

“We have to have our best week of practice,” said Wood. “We have to prepare harder than we ever have. This is a goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season.”

“We are going to have to play some of our best football,” said Finkle. “We just have to keep playing our game.”



 


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