Led by a defense that went from cautious to crazed, Lakeville North ended upstart Rosemount's state tournament surprise, crushing the Irish 28-7 in the Class 6A semifinals.
The Panthers qualified for the Prep Bowl for the first time since Lakeville split into two high schools in 2005 by playing offense with its defense, attacking constantly and forcing the Irish completely out of their game plan.
"There are times when I watch these guys and I think back to when I played football," said Lakeville North coach Brian Vossen, who played linebacker and was a 1998 graduate of Lakeville. "I don't think I could have played with these guys. They're too good."
The game didn't start the way it finished. For the first quarter, Rosemount looked very much like the team that upset No. 1-ranked Edina one week earlier.
The Irish took the opening kickoff and drove 68 yards in 12 plays, taking a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Ali Al-Khatib. Quarterback Jackson Erdmann was 5-for-5 passing on the drive, hooking up with receiver Sean Kalinowski four times.
"That's OK," Vossen said. "They beat us with little hitches. We invite that. They took advantage."
After stopping Lakeville North on its ensuing drive at its own 3-yard line, things were looking rosy for Rosemount.
And then the luck ran out on the Irish.
Lakeville North scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and had two more called back because of penalties. Jamiah Newell scored from 1 yard out to tie the score 7-7, and linebacker Mitch Johnson picked up a fumbled pitchout by Erdmann and returned it 8 yards for a 14-7 halftime lead.
"We feel like we can shut down any offense in the state," said Johnson. "You never know who's going to be the one to step up and make a play, but someone always does."
After a third quarter in which the teams combined for more punts (six) than first downs (three), Lakeville North's offense broke out in the fourth quarter when Zach Creighton found Brandon Morgan for a 33-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
The way the Lakeville North defense was playing, that 14-point lead might as well have been 400. It allowed only one first down and 11 total yards after halftime.
Newell put the final touch on the victory with a 53-yard touchdown run with 4:56 left in the game.
Vossen neatly summed up the game with one postgame comment.
"This," he said, "is the best defense I've ever coached."