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Cougars are at their best in final quarter

By Mike Shaughnessy, 12/02/21, 11:15AM CST


Clutch drive, defensive stand produce Prep Bowl championship

For many of their games the last two seasons, Lakeville South’s football starters have been on the sideline late in the fourth quarter, watching the backups close out yet another lopsided Cougars victory.

They expected it would be different last week. And they were ready. The Cougars offense took the ball on their 11-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and drove 89 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in their 13-7 victory over Maple Grove in the Class 6A championship game Nov. 26 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Cougars needed one more stand from their defense, which forced the Crimson to turn over the ball on downs with less than one minute remaining. Then they could celebrate the first state football championship in their school’s history.

“We knew it was coming down to the last drive and we had to score,” said quarterback Camden Dean, who ran 52 yards to put the Cougars ahead for the first time with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining. “We were on the sideline watching film and we said we’re going to have the game-winning drive here. Six minutes, and we’ve got a state championship.”

Lakeville South finished 13-0 and extended its winning streak to 21 games over the last two seasons. The Cougars went 8-0 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and were ranked first in a postseason Associated Press Class 6A poll (there were no football playoffs in 2020). They had rings made to commemorate the 2020 title, however unofficial it might have been.

“Last year felt amazing, but this is like, triple it,” Dean said.

Maple Grove (12-1) made it tough on Lakeville South, becoming only the second team this season to take a lead against the Cougars when it scored the game’s first touchdown in the third quarter on a 24-yard pass from Jacob Kilzer to Tanner Albeck. South evened the game on its next possession, with Dean scoring on a 28-yard run.

A thunderous block by offensive lineman Wyatt Ronn took out a blitzing linebacker, and Dean broke a couple of tackles on his way to the game-winning score.

“I felt that,” Dean said, referring to Ronn’s block. “It felt like an explosion. I started laughing during the play. He did that earlier in the year against Prior Lake. I think he did it better this time.”

“Our defense played their hearts out,” said Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi, whose school was going for its first state football title. “(Dean) made a good play, he made a couple of kids miss tackles, and we didn’t really miss tackles all the way through the game.”

Although Lakeville South throws only a few passes each game, the Cougars’ Power-T offense has produced numerous explosive plays. Maple Grove was more effective at containing the offense than any South opponent all season. Dean’s two touchdown runs were the Cougars’ longest of the night. The Crimson held South running back Carson Hansen to 55 yards on 13 carries, but that still was enough to allow the Cougars’ junior to pass 2,000 yards for the season (he finished with 2,012).

“Maple Grove is just a really well-coached team. They give us fits, do things different,” South coach Ben Burk said. “(Lombardi) has coached against our offense a number of times. Guys like that figure out ways to be successful. And his kids are good. You get into a game like this, it’s going to be a battle.”

With the Cougars’ variety of running backs and their quarterback also posing a rushing threat, Burk said opposing defenses are under pressure to defend eight gaps and often are required to guess when the South offense is going.

“Eventually, if you’re the more physical team and you’re consistent and don’t make mistakes, you’ll pop a few,” Burk said. “We were able to kind of get after them play after play after play and were successful with the quarterback.”

The South defense made the last big play, with linebacker Mikai Stewart and defensive back Joey Ulmen stopping Kilzer 1 yard short on a fourth-down scramble at the Cougars’ 26-yard line.

“We had them in a similar situation earlier in the drive and they got (the first down), so we were like, we can’t let this slip through our fingers again,” linebacker Zach Juckel said. “I was on the opposite side of the field but I saw (Kilzer) running and I was like, ‘Dear god, one of our guys get there.’”

The defense “saved us tonight,” Dean said. “They had a great week of practice. I played scout team quarterback and couldn’t do anything against them. Offensively, we got it done when we needed to.”

Lakeville South was in the Prep Bowl one other time, losing to Eden Prairie 21-14 in the 2006 large-school championship game. The Cougars are the fifth team from Lakeville to win a state football title, joining Lakeville High School in 1988, 1992 and 2003, and Lakeville North in 2018.

The Cougars got to experience what the other Lakeville teams did. “We were obviously very excited about last year, but this takes it to a whole new level,” Juckel said. “We’re all looking forward to the celebration that’s about to happen with our team and in our community.”