The Lakeville North Panthers didn’t play their best football in the first half of their Friday night showdown against Eden Prairie.
The offense didn’t consistently move the ball and the defense – although stout in the red zone – was giving up yards. They were able to keep the Eagles off the scoreboard – in part – because of Eden Prairie penalties and two missed field goals. Able to get to halftime on their home field with the score tied at zero must have felt pretty good.
Outplayed in the first half, the Panthers – especially the defense – dominated the second half. They Eden Prairied Eden Prairie and scored the only two touchdowns in the second half to win 14-0.
The Eagles got the first break of the game when North’s long snapper put the snap over the punter’s head. The punter was able to scramble to the outside and throw an incomplete pass, but it gave Eden Prairie the ball on North’s side of the fifty.
The Eagles gave the ball right back to the Panthers with a fumble that was recovered by North’s Will Mostaert. North’s offense was not able to take advantage however and punted for the second straight time.
Eden Prairie’s offense started to find its stride behind the arm of quarterback Cole Kramer. The drive would stall inside the twenty, and they had to settle for a forty-yard field goal attempt. The kick slammed off the left upright, and the scoreboard would still show all zeros.
The rest of the first half was more of the same. The North offense was not able to string together more than two straight first downs, and Eden Prairie would move the ball, but whenever they would start to put a drive together, they would commit a penalty or the North front seven would make a tackle in the backfield to put the Eagles in a long yardage situation.
“Lots of credit has to go to our defense and our defensive line,” Lakeville North head coach Brian Vossen said. “The kids played their hearts out. Both the Mostaerts, Preston Palmer, Landon Carter, you win up front, and those guys battled on the line of scrimmage.”
Late in the first half, EP’s offense worked its way into field goal range again, but on the last play of the half, North blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt, sending both teams into the locker room tied at zero.
The Lakeville North defense came up big on the first play of the second half. EP tried a play-action pass right out of the locker room, but Panthers’ safety Erik Weckman was not fooled. He picked off the pass near midfield and returned the ball inside the ten.
“That helped us so much,” offensive lineman Bryce Benhart said. “That changed the momentum of the game real fast.”
“That was huge,” Will Mostaert said. “I thought he was going to bring it to the house. We knew we were going to push it in and score.”
North’s offense would take advantage of the turnover. Two plays later, Brian Curtis Jr. ran off tackle for a seven-yard touchdown.
The Lakeville North defense would take it from there. The front seven dominated the rest of the game. They were constantly in the backfield either harassing the quarterback or forcing Eagles’ running backs to re-route and struggle to even get out of the backfield.
The Panthers’ put together another touchdown drive against the Eagles’ defense without being set up in the red zone. They needed a successful quarterback sneak on a fourth and short and then they found a matchup they liked behind Benhart. RaJa Nelson and Curtis alternated carries behind one of the best offensive linemen in the state until Curtis found paydirt from eight yards out.
“We changed up some assignments at halftime and guys got rolling,” Benhart said. “The o-line got rolling, and the offense got rolling.”
Now up two scores the North defense – especially the front seven dominated. They were in Kramer’s face the entire second half and had the Minnesota Gophers’ commit running for his life. Eli Mostaert short-circuited EP’s last scoring threat with a quarterback sack for a ten-yard loss.
Looking like Eden Prairie in their best years, the Lakeville North running game didn’t put up any additional points, but they ground out first downs and milked the clock – giving Eden Prairie very little time on offense.
“Their defense started to get tired,” Eli Mostaert said. “Our big o-line started bowling them over. We ran hard and kept our legs moving and got a push up front.”
The time quickly ran out on the Eagles and gave Lakeville North a 14-0 victory. The Panthers move to 2-0 while Eden Prairie falls to 1-1.
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