As the third quarter drew to a close during Friday’s Eden Prairie-Lakeville North game, many heads were down on the Eagles sideline. EP, playing at home, trailed the Panthers 10-7 with its season on the line.
Three plays later, however, the mood among the Eagle players did a 180-degree turn. EP jumped on a muffed Lakeville North punt. The mood improved even more plays later when the Eagles went ahead for good. They defeated an upset-minded Panther team 14-10 to advance to next week’s Class 6A state quarterfinals.
Looking at the records of Eden Prairie (8-1) and Lakeville North (4-5) heading into Friday’s game, the tight nature of Friday’s game might have surprised some. But the Panthers’ below .500 record doesn’t tell the story of their season completely. Lakeville North struggled early while playing many of the top teams in Class 6A including top-ranked Lakeville South and Shakopee.
The Panthers found their stride late in the regular season and rolled through their first playoff matchup, defeating White Bear Lake 39-0 on the road.
In the early goings, Lakeville North showed that it was capable of pushing the EP defense. On fourth and short, Tyler Niggeling ran 40 yards to put the Panthers ahead 7-0.
It didn’t take long for the Eagles to respond, however. Noah Eckness capped off an impressive opening drive for the Eagle offense with a short touchdown run. The opening drive included a 43-yard pass from Nick Fazi to Jermell Taylor to get EP down near the goal line.
After giving up that opening score, Lakeville North did not score a touchdown. That was more impressive given the fact the Panthers blocked an Eagle punt in the second quarter and had the ball first-and-goal inside the EP 10-yard line. However, the Eagle defense stood tall and stopped Lakeville North on four consecutive plays.
The game remained deadlocked through the second and third quarters. The Eagles’ opening drive of the second half looked promising until a holding penalty and an interception thrown by Fazi dashed any hopes of EP gaining a lead.
Late in the third, the Panthers gashed the Eagles on the ground and eventually went ahead with a 27-yard field goal.
EP’s first drive after the field goal stalled. Then came the big-time muffed punt that gave the Eagles new life.
With the ball in Lakeville North territory, EP went down and scored as Ekness scored his second touchdown of the night to make it 14-10 Eagles.
From there, EP relied on its running game, a strong punt late in the game and defensive success to hold off any Lakeville North comeback. The Eagles clinched the game late when Fazi completed a pass to a wide open Toby Frost that gave EP the first down it needed to ice the win.
The Eagles now advance to play Farmington in the quarterfinals. All quarterfinal games are played at neutral sites across Minnesota. EP and the Tigers will meet at Chanhassen High School on Friday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. The Eagles defeated Farmington in the regular season, 37-29.