For the first time since 2003, the Lakeville North football team will play for a state championship.
The Panthers defeated the surging Rosemount Irish 28-7 on Thursday night in the Class 6A semifinal at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Lakeville North (11-1) will play Eden Prairie, a 21-7 winner over Wayzata in the other semifinal, in the Prep Bowl at 7 p.m. Nov. 23, also at the Metrodome. Eden Prairie won the 2011 state large-school title.
The Irish were coming in with nothing to lose after upsetting top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Edina one week earlier. But the Panthers were confident throughout, even though the game didn’t start well for them.
Irish quarterback Jackson Erdmann, running back Dimitri Williams and receiver Sean Kalinowski helped open the game with a 68-yard drive that turned into a 7-0 lead for the Irish.
“It was a little surprising, but we were a little excited,” said Panthers defensive lineman Gregory Menard, who had 1.5 sacks and five total tackles. “Once we calmed down we knew we’d be all right. Our goal was to hold them to no more points.”
Rosemount earned 35 yards the rest of the game.
“We get that feeling that the only way they can score is if they get that big play,” head coach Brian Vossen said. “We go into games with a plan A, B, C, and they forced us into B and C. But once we started getting on a roll with those stops, it’s just a matter of time. We knew the offense would get going.”
In the second quarter, a 23-yard catch by Ben Blake and a 17-yard run by Jamiah Newell set up Newell’s game-tying 1-yard touchdown run.
Following a blocked Lakeville North field-goal attempt, the Panthers’ Mitch Johnson forced and recovered a fumble on the 8-yard line and ran it in for a score to give his team the lead.
Because of Menard, Karl Finkel, who had six tackles and 1.5 sacks, Jesse Cardenas (six tackles), Grant Erickson (five) and the rest of the defense, the Irish had nowhere to go.
“We just kept getting better,” Menard said. “One guy would make a play and the next guy would make a play. It just kept going from there.”
Penalties kept the Panthers from scoring any more in the first half.
Quarterback Zach Creighton scampered for a 21-yard touchdown and Erickson returned an interception for a touchdown, but both were called back because of penalties.
Based on the way the defense was playing, the Panthers were confident even though they were ahead by just one score heading into the fourth quarter.
With 10:10 left , Creighton connected with Ben Morgan for a 33-yard touchdown pass. About five minutes later Newell put on the finishing touch with a 53-yard sprint to put the Panthers up 28-7.
North’s celebration was brief as the players and coaches quickly turned their attention to the championship game.
“Our goal is to win it all, so we’ll celebrate after that next game,” Creighton said.