Eagan and Lakeville South might not be mirror images on the football field, but it’s obvious the Wildcats were watching and taking notes as South rose to become one of the top programs in Class 6A.
The lessons that stuck with the Wildcats were that to succeed in Class 6A they needed to run the ball effectively and be physical for 48 minutes, week after week. They tried it out on No. 2-ranked Lakeville South last week and while they didn’t win – South scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a hard-fought 27-14 victory Sept. 21 – coach Nick Johnson said they took more steps toward where they eventually want to be.
“I think our kids got off the bus and believed they could do it,” Johnson said. “We’re not the same old Eagan. We’re going to fight you tooth and nail. You win Rosemount (the Wildcats defeated Rosemount 17-6 on Sept. 14), and now you have to find a way to score here when it’s 14-14. That’s the next step. And you don’t get any recovery. You play Lakeville North next, and they’re one of the best teams in the state.”
Lakeville South junior Connor Cade rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns as the Cougars (4-0) remained one of three undefeated teams in Class 6A. He ran for a 29-yard score on the second play of the fourth quarter to put South ahead to stay and scored on a 60-yard run one play after Eagan lost the ball on downs with about four minutes to play. He helped the Cougars overcome the loss of rushing leader Jonah Shine, who was injured the previous week against Lakeville North and did not suit up for the Eagan game.
“If guys can’t go, we have to have the next one,” Lakeville South coach Ben Burk said. “Luckily we’re deep, especially at the skill positions. It’s a good opportunity for other guys.”
Eagan actually had more rushing yards than South (296 yards to 259), something that’s rarely happened to the Cougars over the last five years. Two Wildcats, Tate Gage and Brooklyn Evans, rushed for more than 100 yards, and Evans scored on runs of 23 and 53 yards.
Lakeville South runs its Power-T offense and Eagan favors the option, but both teams are built on controlling the ball and occasionally breaking a big play. Asked what it was like to play a team that’s trying to do many of the same things as South, Burk said, “It makes us play better, right? They’re good. I liked the recipe that they use.
“In our conference, everybody runs something a little different. I think that’s why (the Wildcats) picked what they do, so they can be unique and tough to prepare for. They definitely were. They forced us to be at our best.”
Linebacker Carter Mayer led the South defense with 11 tackles. Linemen Joshua Bergan and Devin Abbey had 10 and nine tackles, and Isaac Cin recovered a fumble. Bo Bokman was a two-way contributor with eight tackles and 54 rushing yards, and Kyle Bjorklund caught a 56-yard pass from Gaven Dean in the first half.
Eagan (2-2) faced two fourth-down decisions in the fourth quarter. With the Wildcats trailing 21-14, at the South 35 and needing three yards, Madden Ison took a pitch and gained nine.
Shortly thereafter, the Wildcats were called for a personal foul, backing them up. They faced fourth and 23, with a little more than four minutes remaining, decided they couldn’t punt, and tried to get the ball downfield to receiver Sam Sisk. But the Cougars had two defensive backs covering Sisk and the ball fell incomplete. On the next play, Cade raced 60 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
The lessons in the Metro South district can be harsh and progress can come slowly, but Johnson, in his fifth season as Eagan’s head coach, said this is what the Wildcats wanted. They had been in the Metro Maroon district until this year before joining a district that has three teams (Lakeville South, Rosemount and Rochester Mayo) that reached the state playoffs last season.
“We always said we asked for this,” Johnson said. “We didn’t go (back) to the Maroon. We didn’t choose that route because we needed to see where we’re at. So yeah, I’m happy that we’re competing with those (South) teams, absolutely. Now we have to find a way to we don’t I mean, we didn’t we didn’t go to the room. We didn’t choose that route. We needed to see where we were at. So yeah, my happy that we’re competing with these teams. Absolutely. To get over the hump. Now. You got to find a way to get to the next step. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.”
Lakeville South travels to Rochester Mayo (2-2) for a 7 p.m. game Friday. Eagan is home against Lakeville North on Friday. North, a top-10 team in the Class 6A rankings, is 3-1 with the only loss to Lakeville South on a last-second field goal.