There's no ego and no selfishness to Lakeville North. There is, however, an unending supply of confidence. The Panthers reiterated their claim to being the premier team in Class 6A by routing St. Michael-Albertville 35-8 Friday night in the state quarterfinals at TCO Stadium.
As they have all season, the Panthers took an opponent's game plan and shredded it with a physically dominating style that is impossible to match.
They scored quickly Friday, forcing two fumbles that resulted in touchdowns, and staked themselves to a 14-0 lead before the game was four minutes old. When they weren't scoring, they were pounding on their opponents, not just shutting them down but wearing them out.
Running back Brian Curtis expressed the Panthers' credo simply: "It's a team effort. One weak link and teams can take advantage of that."
Curtis was the standout performer for the Lakeville North offense, carrying the ball 29 times for 183 yards and a touchdown.
With brutal, blustery field conditions, Curtis was prepared for a heavy load.
"We've been trying to throw the ball more, but the weather makes it kind of hard," he said. "The run game has been effective all year, so why stop it?"
Curtis put the Panthers on top early in the first quarter. The drive started at the St. Michael-Albertville 32 after a fumble by Knights quarterback Jared Duda. Three plays later — all runs by Curtis — Lakeville North led 7-0.
That lead was extended soon after. Lakeville North defensive end Landon Carter swooped in on Duda and stripped the ball out of his hands. It popped directly to linemate Preston Palmer, who dashed 20 yards untouched for a touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.
"It was just instinctive," Palmer said. "If I get the ball, run."
The Lakeville North defensive line has been a destructive force all season. With Palmer and Carter augmenting the ferocity of the Mostaert brothers, Will and Eli, opponents rarely get a chance to establish a rhythm.
"They're big, and they brought a lot of pressure," Duda said after the game. "I did all I could do, but it's a little tough when they're in your face."
The Panthers (11-0) added a touchdown late in the first quarter and another early in the third to take a 28-0 lead. It was the same score that St. Michael-Albertville (7-4) faced in its previous game before rallying for a 29-28 victory.
This time, however, there would be no miracles. Instead, a 57-yard scoring reception by Raja Nelson extended the lead to 35-0. St. Michael-Albertville avoided the shutout with a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game.
"These guys, every week they go out and give absolutely all they have," Lakeville North coach Brian Vossen said. "We're a big, physical group that's going to be difficult for anyone to handle."