After both teams turned their first possessions into touchdowns, it looked like a possible shootout at Spring Lake Park between the Panthers and the Irondale Knights. After the opening drive fireworks, the defenses stepped up when needed and kept both offenses off the scoreboard for the rest of the half.
Spring Lake Park’s defense held strongest in the second half too, helping the Panthers to a 26-17 win over the Knights.
Irondale used the combination of running back Parker Freiberg‘s running, quarterback Leighton Glodek‘s passing and mobility in the pocket and the hands of receiver Aden Price to score the game’s first touchdown.
When Spring Lake Park took over, they moved right down the field using the ground game – specifically the option game. Quarterback Zack Dunbar ran the option, and they relied on the running of Derric Bergman to cut the Irondale lead to 7-6.
“Our defense is amazing,” Dunbar said. “Every single week they step it up.”
Spring Lake Park was in the midst of the best drive of the game late in the first half. They chewed up almost seven minutes off the clock and were inside the ten. However, Dunbar tried to pitch the ball too late resulting in a fumble recovery by Irondale. The score remained 7-6 at the half after the Knights missed a field goal attempt.
“In the locker room the captains stood up and said someone needs to spark us,” Bergman said, “we were too dead.”
After the half, Bergman finally got loose on the option for a huge 70-yard run inside the five-yard line. Dunbar scored three plays later to take a 12-10 lead following Irondale’s 23-yard field goal to open the third quarter.
It would be a lead they would not give back.
Irondale would continue to turn the ball over – this time giving the Panthers the ball back just outside the red zone. The Panthers’ option game was gaining momentum and what were two-yard gains in the first half were turning into five-yard gains and first downs in the third quarter. An 11-yard play action pass from Dunbar to Niko Reimann would put the Panthers up 19-10 late in the third quarter.
Irondale would not go away. Facing a fourth and short at the Panthers’ 20, Glodek dropped back and hit Ignatius Ejiofor for a pass over the middle for a first down. On the next play, Glodek hit receiver Aden Price on a slant to cut the lead to two points.
While trying to kill the clock, the Panthers faced a third and six at their own forty. The Panthers get a nice block from Mason Johnson on the outside, and Bergman was able to move the chains. Faced with another fourth down – this time needing one-yard Bergman was called on with a straight dive for a first down with just over four minutes to play. Dunbar would score a few plays later to salt away the game for the Panthers.
“That was big,” Panthers’ head coach John Stewart said. “For these guys to keep their composure and grind the clock down, march away and do what we have done for years and punch it in was a good way to finish off the game.”