Posted On: 11/8/19 5:54 AM
Survive and advance.
That is what I overheard from a Lakeville North assistant coach as the Panthers were going through the handshake line with the Shakopee Sabers. It wasn’t pretty, but the defending champs ground out a 9-7 victory to survive their state 6A quarterfinal game and advance to the semi-finals next week.
Trailing 7-3 with five minutes to play in the game, the Panthers were facing a fourth and seven from the eleven-yard line. Quarterback Raja Nelson took the shotgun snap and found a hole on the left side of the line. He not only picked up the first down, but he also got the ball over the goal line for a 9-7 lead.
The Panthers’ offense had moved the ball all night but were not able to get on the scoreboard until late in the third quarter. The defense had no such problems.
The Panthers’ defense gave up just one first-half scoring drive and dominated in the second half – leading the way to the victory.
The Sabers’ offense moved the ball in the first half against the Panthers’ defense. They used a lot of misdirection and option football to pick up chunks of real estate, but the North defense – while bending – rarely broke. Defensive end Landon Carter‘s sack on third and long forced an early Sabers’ punt.
Sabers’ quarterback David Bigaouette ran the option well in the first half but made a mistake that would prove to be one of the most significant moments of the game. He found the corner on a misdirection play and was running down the sidelines toward the game’s first score but fumbled the ball inside the ten-yard line. North’s Carter Patterson jumped on the fumble – stopping the first good scoring chance for either team.
The Sabers and Bigaouette would not be stopped the next time they got the ball. Bigaouette completed a deep pass to Michael Pennington to move into the red zone, and this time Bigaouette would protect the ball and power his way into the end zone a few plays later.
North finally put together a scoring drive in the third quarter, mainly on the legs of Nelson. They had a first and goal at the three but moved backward from there. The Sabers’ goal-line stand kept Shakopee in the lead as the Panthers could only muster a 30-yard field goal by Preston Fisk.
On their next drive, Nelson was used more as a decoy as the Sabers’ defense was committing to stopping the quarterback, allowing running back Logan Freeburg to find room to run. The drive would be stopped on downs in Sabers’ territory. One play later, North’s Nick Mines picked off a pass, giving the ball right back to the Panthers’ offense.
“They don’t pass the ball much, so you just have to hope the kids stay patient,” North head coach Brian Vossen said. “Nick did a nice job grabbing that thing.”
As the game moved deeper into the fourth quarter, Freeburg continued to find running room against the tough Sabers’ defense. With five minutes to go, North faced a fourth and nine in the red zone. Nelson tried to throw a fade into the end zone, but it fell harmlessly to the ground. The Panthers were bailed out by a pass interference call on the play. That gave them new life and a now fourth and three from the seven. Nelson not only picked up the first down but converted the run into a touchdown.
“I actually called that play,” Nelson said. “I recognized what they were doing on defense, and I felt confident in the play. I stayed with the original call, and we scored on it.”
With four minutes to play, the Sabers had to go 91 yards for the win. After converting on a fourth down on a completed slant pass near mid-field, the Sabers faced another fourth down. They tried running another slant, but this time, Nelson – who was in at corner on the drive – stepped in front of the throw and intercepted the pass.
“I recognized the formation, and I knew what was coming my way,” Nelson said. “I had an idea of what it was. I was able to get in front of it and get the pick.”
North was able to run out the clock from there. It wasn’t pretty, but as that assistant coach said, they ‘survived and advanced.’