Friday's game at Eastview brought many happy returns for Lakeville North senior Brandon Morgan.
Morgan, who attended Eastview as a freshman, made key special teams plays to spur his third-ranked Panthers to a 24-7 victory in their first real test this season.
"The last time I played here was in little kid league football," Morgan said. "There was extra fire in both teams tonight."
The defenses ruled early as the teams started the game with a combined five punts, three interceptions and a 22-yard field goal from Lakeville North's Hunter Cobb. Poised to extend his team's 3-0 lead with a touchdown, Panthers quarterback Zach Creighton was intercepted in the end zone by Jahkye McClarron.
No. 10 Eastview (1-2) went on the attack. Quarterback Mark Dwyer threw downfield for Henry McIsaac, who caught the ball near the 10-yard line, eluded a Panthers defender and jogged backward into the end zone with a 58-yard touchdown at 5:20 of the second quarter.
The Lightning's 7-3 lead was short- lived. Enter Morgan, who responded in explosive fashion with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and 10-7 lead just 14 seconds later.
"I broke left and saw a big hole," Morgan said. "Nobody was there so I just kept running."
Morgan's play was reminiscent of the Panthers' Week 1 victory against Lakeville South when Morgan answered a Cougars defensive touchdown with a 90-yard kickoff return for a score.
Eastview's offensive challenges continued after halftime as the Lightning punted away its opening possession. Meanwhile, Lakeville North (3-0) hit the accelerator. Jamiah Newell took an inside run up the field, cut back left and raced to the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown. The score put the Panthers ahead 17-7 at 9:16 of the third quarter.
Morgan and Newell struck again as the Panthers pulled away. Morgan's 42-yard punt return gave the Panthers the ball at Eastview's 25-yard line. Newell finished the short drive with a 4-yard score and the Panthers led 24-7.
Third quarters have been unkind of late to Eastview, which also surrendered 14 points in the third quarter to Wayzata last week.
The Panthers were without standout linebacker Mitch Johnson, who missed the game with a concussion. But the defense held strong despite his absence.
Defensive back Grant Erickson intercepted two Eastview passes in the first half.
The Panthers averaged a gaudy 58.5 points scored through their first two games, but Friday's victory meant more.
"We've been working hard getting ready for this season," Morgan said. "We knew it would be close tonight so it's great to get the win."