Lakeville North head coach Brian Vossen entered Friday night’s game against Lakeville South with a contagious and quiet confidence. The look on his face during his pregame interview suggested that he knew something that we didn’t – that his players were about to do something really special. The North Panthers make it no secret that they play with a proverbial chip on their shoulder and no one embodies this trait better than their beloved head coach. Countless times this season Vossen has pointed out the fact that the newspapers unfairly ranked his team ranked fifth in the South Suburban Conference preseason poll; now anything but a conference title will be a disappointment for the Panthers.
A howling autumn wind, uncharacteristic penalties, and an unrelenting Lakeville North pass rush proved to be the Achilles heel for the previously #4 ranked Cougars who typically rely on a strong passing game. South’s play-calling seemed to be dictated by the strong winds, only passing with it at their backs and running with it in their faces. North on the other hand did not seem as affected by the wind, remaining much more balanced than their southern counterparts. Much of this had to do with Panther quarterback Trey Heid. His ability to evade from pressure and scramble has made him a very powerful weapon for North this season and the weapon was on full display Friday night against South. Heid combined for 204 total yards, 107 through the air and 97 on the ground, including a 21-yard run for the game’s first score.
South quarterback Mitch Leidner rarely looked comfortable in the pocket against North’s pass rush. Vossen has been known to dial up the kind of blitzes that make South quarterback’s miserable and Friday was no exception. North linebackers Mitch Johnson, Trevor Goeman, and Alex Wood were all beneficiaries of North’s aggressive defensive gameplan – each collected sacks Friday night. Leidner’s uneasiness in the pocket led to rushed throws from the future Gopher. Often he was making passes without setting his feet, causing balls to sail over the heads of the Cougar receivers. It wasn’t until near the end of the second half, with the score 10-0, that Leidner and the South offense seemed to find a rhythm. While in their two-minute offense, Leidner was able to be in shotgun, which gave him more to time to find open receivers in space – like Matt Heller, who finished the game with 6 catches and 104 receiving yards. The drive ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Leidner to Trent Bertamus. After the point after was blocked, the score was 10-6 heading into halftime.
When Lakeville North’s first drive was abruptly halted when a Heid pass fell into the hands of South defensive back Nick Sanborn, it seemed as though all the momentum was back with the favored Cougars. Shortly after, North’s Zach Creighton intercepted the ball back for the Panthers, thus intercepting the momentum as well for what would be the remainder of the game. Trey Heid capitalized on the turnover by running in his second score. On the next drive, Leidner threw another pick: this time Grant Erickson was the culprit, returning it back 16 yards for a touchdown. The score was now 23-6; a North victory was imminent. Heid finished off a very impressive night by hitting Ben Blake in the endzone with 2:50 left in the game, making the score 30-6, which ultimately became the final.
Brandon Morgan also had a nice game for the Panthers, finishing with 15 carries for 50 yards. David Macura was the leading North receiver with 3 catches for 52 yards. The dominant Panther defensive performance was led by safety and senior captain Austin Streit, who had 7 tackles on the night.
Mitch Leidner completed 10 of his 20 pass attempts for 138 yards to go along with his touchdown pass and two interceptions. Braden Kaufenberg led the team in rushing with 36 yards on 7 carries. Nevin Andreas and Dillon Lampert led South’s defense with 6 tackles a piece.
Lakeville North will take its 6-0 record to Bloomington to play the Kennedy Eagles next week. The Cougars will look to get passed the tough loss as they take on a good Prior Lake team for their homecoming game next Friday. It’s almost certain that these two teams will meet once again in the section playoffs, and what is even more certain is that the next meeting will not be as lopsided as the first.
On a season where Lakeville South has hogged much of the football spotlight, its rivals to the North finally had their shot to knock them down from their pedestal and claim the top spot in the city, if only for a while. On a season where Mitch Leidner has gotten all the press and interviews and large pictures in the newspaper, it was the humble and speedy gunslinger wearing #3 for the Panthers that took the game over on Friday. On a season where everything was in the cards for South head coach Larry Thompson to make a run at his fourth state championship ring, it was his former assistant coach and fiery old Lakeville Panther captain that finally got to prove what he has been saying all season long: his team is for real.
By Luke Sleeper
Luke Sleeper is a contributor to KCHKRadio.net