Lakeville South installed a new offense this season, but if it looks familiar to those who follow high school football, it should.
The Cougars have adopted the T-formation, run-based attack that propelled Elk River to the top of Class 5A with a state championship in 2016 and a runner-up finish in 2017.
When operating at peak efficiency, the Elks have put big numbers on the scoreboard despite rarely passing. They scored 80 points – yes, 80 – in a game earlier this season against Buffalo. In the 2017 Class 5A semifinals, Elk River never threw a pass but rushed for 701 yards and scored 50 points in a victory over Apple Valley.
Lakeville South’s offense hasn’t reached that degree of explosiveness, but the Cougars’ 48-21 victory over Shakopee last Friday gave an indication of what the new style could accomplish. South rushed for 381 yards, averaging 5.9 yards a carry, and scored six touchdowns on the ground (the Cougars’ other touchdown came on a blocked punt). They threw only four passes.
Lakeville South had scored 63 points in its previous six games combined.
“We spent some time with the Elk River program this summer,” Lakeville South coach Tyler Krebs said. “Coach (Steve) Hamilton (Elk River’s head coach) was great about sharing ideas about how we could use it. We also practiced with Elk River’s team one day during the summer.”
The offense is called the “Power-T,” although that might be a misnomer, because Krebs said it emphasizes blocking angles and deception more than brute force. That’s a good fit for a South team that starts two guards weighing less than 200 pounds. The Cougars also have some depth at running back, and the new offense allows them to use three backs at a time.
Mostly, though, the Cougars wanted to move forward, not backward. Last season, Krebs said, plays that went for losses cost South more than 400 yards. That led to short possessions and bad field position, putting a strain on the South defense.
In last Friday’s homecoming victory over Shakopee, junior Johnny Shabaz rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Jared Stewart, a senior, gained 95 yards on six carries and scored once. Sophomore Reid Patterson, who took over at quarterback in an Oct. 5 game at Rosemount (with George Brekke, the previous starter, becoming a tight end), scored on three short runs. T.J. Nelson also had a rushing touchdown.
Lakeville South’s Jacob Rongitsch also blocked a punt in the first quarter that teammate Cade Ahrenholz recovered in the end zone. “We’ve had five or six blocked punts this season,” Krebs said.
The Cougars are 2-5 against a schedule that has included two of the top four teams in the Class 6A rankings and three of the top 10. South led fourth-ranked Edina with two minutes remaining before the Hornets pulled out the victory. South trailed No. 1-ranked Lakeville North 7-3 at halftime before the Panthers scored three second-half touchdowns.
“We feel we’ve played seven really good games,” Krebs said. “In the Edina game, we thought they missed a fumble that we recovered and we should have won 8-7. In the Rosemount game (a 31-15 loss) we had three bad punts and got in a hole early. I thought we outplayed them in the second half, and they left their first-string defense in.”
Lakeville South broke open the Shakopee game in the third quarter with three rushing touchdowns, one each by Patterson, Shabaz and Stewart. A 19-14 halftime lead grew to 41-14.
The South defense held the Sabers to one touchdown. Shakopee also returned a kickoff and a fumble for scores. Brekke, now seeing some playing time on defense, had an interception and lineman Jordan McCall made six tackles, including two sacks.
The Cougars closed the regular season at Farmington on Wednesday, after this edition went to press. Depending on the outcome of games involving Eastview and Burnsville, South still held hope of getting the fourth seed in Section 3 and home field for a first-round playoff game.
Farmington (1-6) has shown an ability to move the ball but has had trouble stopping opposing offenses. The Tigers are allowing 43.7 points a game.
“The big concern for us is making sure they earn it on offense and not give up big plays,” Krebs said. “We’re hoping we will be able to run the ball and take some time off the clock.”