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Lakeville North Defeats Owatonna, Advances To 5A State Tournament
Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/6/2011 11:50:32 AM

By Luke Sleeper

Growing up in Lakeville, I always wanted to be a Panther. As far back as I can remember I fantasized about putting on that bright red Lakeville football jersey. Something about that Panther logo on the white helmet and that huge marching band and the stadium on the hill gave me the feeling like something special was happening in my town on Friday nights, even at such a young age.

Somewhere along the way, that dream died along with the Lakeville Panther name when the city was split North and South and a crosstown rivalry took its place. During my time as an athlete at Lakeville South, I naturally reviled the North Panthers. Since longtime Lakeville coach Larry Thompson and most of his staff moved over to the new school, it felt as though it was the South Cougars that were carrying on the Panther football tradition, despite new logos, colors and mascot.

While witnessing Lakeville North’s 26-7 victory over Owatonna in the Class 5A Section 1 championship game on Friday, it became clear that the Northern brand of Lakeville football is something special, too.

Panthers coach Brian Vossen, who was a Lakeville captain in the mid-90’s and then an assistant coach, has an indelible passion for the game and for his players that he wears visibly on his sleeve. His confidence and emotion extend to his players, especially his defense, which spent Friday night running wildly all over the field, halting an Owatonna offense that came into the night averaging 37 points per game.

The Panthers showed off their speed early in the game. On their first offensive drive, running back David Morgan sprinted in the first score of the game from 25 yards out. Lakeville took just a 10-0 lead into halftime, despite dominating the time of possession for most of the first half.

“We knew we were going to be able to have success against a team (like Owatonna) that only plays man coverage…it was their blitz that gave us some trouble there in the middle of the night,” Vossen said. “But our defense played so well that we didn’t need the greatest night from our offense to win.”

In the second half, the North defense continued to pound on the Huskies’ offense. Owatonna quarterback Colton Schock found himself on his back for a lot of the night, three times at the hands of North defensive end Karl Finkel. Owatonna’s only significant scoring chance while the game was still close was halted by an interception by Lakeville cornerback Kyrell Newell.

Panthers quarterback Trey Heid and the Lakeville offense found its stride in the second half, utilizing their always balanced attack of pass and run. Receivers Charlie Hayes and Joel Oxton each had big games, gaining 100 yards and 77 yards, respectively, while Heid and Morgan combined for 120 yards on the ground.

Heid’s versatility has been a key for the Panthers all season long, whether it be in the passing, running or kicking game. It was Heid’s booming 71-yard punt that pinned the Huskies at their own 4-yard line late in the third quarter and led to a safety. A 12-yard touchdown pass from Heid to Morgan gave North an insurmountable 26-0 lead in the fourth quarter.

Lakeville North is 10-0 and No. 3 in the 5A state rankings heading into its state quarterfinal matchup with perennial powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall on Friday at the Metrodome.

After Friday’s game, Vossen talked about returning the Panthers to their pre-split glory, when the program won three Prep Bowls out of five appearances from 1987-2003. This North team is talented, fast and battle-tested enough to get them there. Vossen’s intensity and the excitement with which the Panthers play football even had me wondering how I would have looked in that red jersey and white helmet again. Just don’t tell my old teammates.

--Luke Sleeper is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota


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