Senior Jadon Hatt clinched Lakeville North's season-opening 21-7 victory over East Ridge with a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The play showed that the Panthers defense, despite graduating nine starters, remains united and formidable.
On the other sideline, a losing East Ridge team clung to a similar message Saturday. The Raptors, trailing 14-0 at halftime, fought back to stay in the game. Though rocked by the departure of coach Mike Pendino just days before practice began, and on the heels of two seasons of forfeits for using an ineligible player, East Ridge kept its pride.
"We are all one," senior captain Sam Schiller said. "We win and we lose together. That's the message. We don't get down on anybody."
Patience was critical as Lakeville North scored on two of its first three drives and took a 14-0 lead at halftime. Short touchdown runs from Drew Stewart and Wade Sullivan provided the points.
During the break, interim East Ridge coach Dan Fritze implored players to support each other.
"We're trying to build kids," Fritze said.
"It's not about building football players all the time. If kids can play through adversity in football, you know they can do it in life."
A short touchdown run by East Ridge junior running back Dominik London cut the Panthers' lead to 14-7. Then Hatt stepped in front of a swing pass.
"It really doesn't get easier for a defensive back; it went right to me," Hatt said.