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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/15/2012 1:40:24 PM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

Going into Friday night’s South Suburban Conference showdown between the host Eastview Lightning and the undefeated and unchallenged Lakeville North Panthers, the buzz was all about the Panther offense. I was expecting to see a high-powered offensive show from the Panthers. I expected a solid all-around game typical of Eastview head coach Kelly Sherman’s Lightning, which has become one of the more consistent programs in the metro. What I didn’t expect – but maybe I should have – was a dominant performance from the Lakeville North defense.

The Panthers had been putting up points like a pinball machine. After scoring 47 points against cross-town rival Lakeville South in the season opener, they followed it up by hanging 70 on Bloomington Kennedy.

“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder,” said Panthers quarterback Zach Creighton. “We saw in the preseason rankings in the paper that our defense has nothing to prove, but our offense has a lot of question marks. We wanted to make a statement to the state that we have just as good an offense as anyone. That is just the attitude we have had.”

The Eastview defense would give the Panthers their first big test. The Lightning came into the game at 1-1, with the loss coming against one of the state’s best teams – Wayzata.
The Panther defense forced a three-and-out the first time it stepped on the field. Although the offense struggled to get going, the defense would more than make up for it. Senior defensive back Grant Erickson picked off a pass midway through the first quarter. He undercut an out route to set up the game’s first scoring drive.

“We knew coming into the season we could have a special team. We have a lot of talent,” said Creighton. “We returned eight starters on defense. We had basically our whole defense in before two-a-days started. We think we have one of the best defenses in the state and they showed it tonight.”

The first play after the turnover, North’s offense created its first big play. A long run around the right side, behind 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior tackle Zachary Ziemer, put North in the red zone. Good coverage by the Lightning secondary – a theme most of the game - stopped the drive and forced a short field goal for the first points.

The Panthers moved into scoring position a second time, but an interception kept it a three-point game. Erickson returned the favor a few plays later when he read a screen pass perfectly and came up with his second interception of the game.

“We knew if we could stop them on the run with our front seven we could keep four defensive backs out there, and that really helped with the pass game,” said Erickson. “It allowed me to be more aggressive with a guy behind me. That is what happened on the two picks, just trusting everyone around me and making a play on the ball.”

North looked like it was going to capitalize on the turnover, especially after a successful hook and ladder put the offense inside the 20. The Panthers – who had just as many penalties as points in the first half - continued to shoot themselves in the foot as Creighton threw his second interception of the half. The senior was able to do damage with his feet in the first half, but struggled with the passing game.

The Panther defense showed a crack following the turnover. After a long run by Eastview’s Will Rains, quarterback Mark Dwyer found a receiver with single coverage. Although the defender was in good position, he couldn’t get his head around fast enough and Henry McIsaac made a great catch, spun away from the defender and scored the game’s first touchdown. Eastview’s lead lasted all of about 10 seconds.

North senior Brandon Morgan got great blocking on the ensuing kickoff and erased the home team’s lead. His 90-yard return put the Panthers back in the lead. The defense and a more physical offense did the rest.

In the first half, Eastview’s defensive backs did a great job in coverage and the front seven kept Creighton from getting outside.

“We got down to the goal line twice and only had three points to show for it,” said Creighton. “I threw a pass I should not have thrown that left points on the board. We left a couple of touchdowns on the board in the first half.”

The second half was a different story.
After the defense again held Eastview to a three and out, the Panther running game flexed its muscle. Junior Jamaih Newell got loose for a 50-yard touchdown run.

“We came in there (in the second half) and we just said we have to get off the ball and play more physical,” said Creighton. “We did that. They were more physical (in the first half) so we came out and pounded the ball and it ended up working. Jamaih Newell and our offensive line deserve all the credit for that win. That was gutsy.”

It was still early in the third quarter, but the North defense would not be challenged again.
“I think it was the front seven,” said Erickson. “Just getting to the quarterback and making them throw. They are a running team and if you make a big team throw you are going to make them make mistakes.”

A number of defenders had nice games. Creighton not only played a solid game on offense in the second half, but he also made some nice plays in the secondary. Junior nose tackle Jack Goeman did a lot of the grunt work in the middle and was a big reason why they were able to stop the run. Gregory Menard was solid at defensive end and of course Erickson had his two picks.

The Lakeville North offense is getting all the attention, but the defense might actually be the strength of this team. With the amount of points the offense is putting up, if the defense ends up being the strength of the team, the Panthers could be in for one special season.


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