Irish in control all the way against mistake-prone North
Even before the 2013 football season started, Rosemount’s players and coaches talked about how special it could be.
It will be up to them as to whether the season meets their definition of “special.” What was clear to everybody who watched the Irish on Wednesday night is they will be hard to handle in the playoffs.
Rosemount’s 36-7 victory over Lakeville North accomplished at least two significant things for the Irish. They won the South Suburban Conference championship for the first time since 2010 (it’s also Rosemount’s third conference title since 2008). They also earned the top seed in Section 3 for the Class 6A playoffs that begin Oct. 25. That means Rosemount (7-1 overall, 7-0 conference) will be at home in the first round against eighth-seeded Farmington, as well as for their second-round game if they advance. After the second round, Class 6A games are played at neutral sites.
The conference title is “a huge achievement, and it was one of our main goals this year,” said linebacker Craig Szymanski, a senior captain. “Of course, one of our other main goals is to get back to the dome.”
The Metrodome is where the Irish’s 2012 season ended with a 28-7 loss to Lakeville North in the state semifinals. North also drubbed Rosemount 35-0 in the regular season, and the Irish players who were on that team haven’t forgotten.
“Lakeville North was the physically toughest team in our conference last year,” Rosemount coach Jeff Erdmann said. “The last time we won the conference in 2010, we had a physically tough team.
“We have another one this year.”
Rosemount also was sharp on offense, rolling up 391 yards against a team that had been allowing about five points a game.
Lakeville North would have won the conference with a victory over Rosemount, but the Panthers’ night started poorly and got progressively worse.
It looked as if North would force Rosemount into a three-and-out on its opening drive, but a roughing-the-punter penalty allowed the Irish to keep the ball. They scored 10 plays later on a 1-yard run by Dimitri Williams.
Later in the first quarter senior Greg Menard, who the Panthers use extensively on offense and defense, had to leave because of an ankle injury. He watched the rest of the game from the sideline on crutches and with his ankle wrapped.
North coach Brian Vossen said the Panthers intended to run a lot of plays from the “Wildcat” formation, with tailback Jamiah Newell taking direct snaps and Menard also in the backfield. North’s plans changed when Menard had to leave.
“A lot of wind got sucked out of us,” Vossen said. “(Menard) is a big part of what we do on offense and defense. He’s our best pass rusher and he can bang on offense.”
Rosemount’s Conner Yepsen intercepted a Drew Stewart pass in the second quarter and returned it 43 yards for a touchdowns. It was the third time in four games Yepsen had returned an interception for a score.
The woes multiplied for Lakeville North, which took two illegal formation penalties while trying to punt. Once the Panthers did get it off, a short kick allowed Rosemount to take over at the North 38. A few plays later, Jackson Erdmann threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tray Ashby-Phan and the Irish led 19-0.
Rosemount had the ball in its end of the field late in the first half and appeared ready to run out the clock and take its 19-point lead into the locker room – until North jumped offside and gave the Irish a gift first down.
At that point, the Irish passed on the conservative approach and went for another score. Jackson Erdmann threw a 64-yard pass to Tyler Hartigan for another score, making it 25-0 with 38 seconds left in the half.
“I knew that play was coming in,” Jackson Erdmann said. “(Hartigan) has good hands, good speed and ran a great route.”
Lakeville North’s Vossen said the Panthers decided to try to take away Rosemount’s running game and make the Irish beat them through the air. It sounded reasonable in theory, but Rosemount blew that plan to pieces. The Irish still were effective running the ball (171 yards), and Jackson Erdmann completed 13 of 23 passes for 220 yards and three scores.
“They were putting eight guys in the box and three deep, so they wanted us to throw it,” Jackson Erdmann said. “We’ve always been a run-first team, but we can throw.”
Newell gave North a jolt of energy in the third quarter when he broke up the middle on a 57-yard touchdown run. It didn’t last long. Rosemount responded with a 37-yard field goal by Brandon Ekeren. On the last play of the third quarter, Jackson Erdmann spotted Ashby-Phan behind the defense and found him with a 37-yard touchdown pass.
The Irish picked up a safety in the fourth quarter when Stewart dropped back to punt but saw the snap sail out of his reach. He recovered the ball but ran out of the end zone to minimize the damage.
Lakeville North got the No. 2 seed in Section 3 and will play host to Burnsville in a first-round game Oct. 25. Menard’s status for that game wasn’t known. Vossen said “we’re hoping the worst-case scenario is he’s ready for the second (playoff) game,” provided the Panthers get past Burnsville.
Rosemount was close to an undefeated regular season. The Irish’s only loss was 24-21 to Wayzata in double overtime in the season opener, a game in which the Trojans scored on a deflected pass in the final minute of the second quarter and won when Rosemount missed a field goal in the second overtime.
“That first game against Wayzata was such a bummer,” Jeff Erdmann said.
But it certainly looks like the Irish are over it as they’ve won every game since, usually in dominating fashion.