VOL. SIGN UPS
TOUCHDOWNERS BOOSTER CLUB
STATS BY YEAR
PANTHER FOOTBALL - WEEK 10
November 7, 2011By Jane Olinger of Spring Lake Park Football
by Jason Olson
Spring Lake Park (9-1) can add a section championship trophy to its case full of North Suburban Conference championship hardware.
The Panthers return to the state tournament for the first time since 1997 after the team continued to frustrated Benilde-St. Margaret’s to win the Section 6-AAAA crown 29-14 at Panthers Stadium Nov. 4. The Panthers’ motto for this season, “Next Level,” is as much a gathering phrase used by the coaching staff to remind the players during practice to look ahead, but also serves as a reminder that previous Panthers teams failed to break into the state tournament.
“We saw an open window a year ago and we fell short against Totino-Grace,” Schlieff said about losing to the Eagles 32-6 in the section finals in 2010.
The Panthers also lost to Totino-Grace in the 2005 section final 21-0.
The Eagles moved up to Class AAAAA this season and won Section 2-AAAAA by a 14-7 score over Mounds View Nov. 4.
The Eagles dominated the Panthers over the last decade with the rivalry growing after several section semifinal and final meetings over that time.
“We’ve won our share of North Suburban Conference championships and that’s a great thing in a good conference but we’ve never gotten out of our section,” he said. “It’s been on our mind and we talk about it all the time.
No. 6 ranked Spring Lake Park faces Bemidji in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals at St. Cloud State University Nov. 11.
This was the third section final game since 2005 for the Panthers so the nerves were there at the start for Schlieff and the team, but quickly dissapated. “Coach is always nervous, but we had a good week of practice and we’ve seen them before and the kids were pretty prepared when we went out there and executed well. The game really came down to blocking and tackling and we did both.”
Credit the Panthers stout defense which continued to frustrate offenses throughout the section final.
“Our defense continued to play well against them the first time and we tried to repeat that again,” Schlieff said. “The coaches do a great job of game planning and we had another good week of practice,” Schlieff said about the effort on the sideline to put the players in a position to succeed on the field.
One cleche about a good defense says that an offense which sustains drives and keeps the defense off the field is the best defense of all. That was the case Friday night as the Panthers option attack produced extended drives after some early miscues.
Spring Lake Park turned the ball over in its own half of the field and Benilde capitalized to do something it couldn’t do in the regular season meeting, score.
Red Knight’s Keaton Studsrud scored from seven-yards out to make it 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Panthers returned the favor with a pair of touchdown runs from sophomore Ejodamen Ejiya in the first half. He scored from two- and one-yard out and Noah Waiwaiole converted a two-point play to make it 14-7 after the home team failed to kick the extra point after the first touchdown.
“[Benilde’s] defense continued to play well in the first half but [quarterback] Brandon [Jones] was making good calls at the line on the reads he saw,” Schlieff said. Those changes Jones made helped sustain the scoring drive which took a whopping 19 plays, “and we converted a lot of third-and-shorts. We’re a lot better at those than third and long,” Schlieff jokingly said as the Panthers offensive line continued to push the opposition back.
Just as it did in the second quarter, Spring Lake Park pounded the ball on another extended drive covering 70 yards over a dozen plays. Running back Jordan Thimmesch-Slepica scored the first of two touchdowns in the quarter and more importantly for the Panthers took about six minutes off the clock.
“I looked up at the clock after the touchdown and saw we only had six minutes left in the third quarter,” Schlieff said. “So that was nice but we watched them come back [against Orono] from the same situation so we wanted to make sure we were still playing tough.”
Thimmesch-Slepica scored twice but the team failed to convert another extra point kick and two-point convertion to take a 26-7 lead into the four quarter.
His second touchdown was set up by a 32-yard halfback pass from Waiwaiole to Bobby Brown.
Benilde drove the field on the next possession and broke into the Panthers Red Zone before Ejiya stepped infront of a pass for a timely interception to calm fears of a Red Knight comeback.
Benilde wasn’t going to go away quietly as running back Javon Snelson scored from one-yard out to make it 26-14.
“Not many teams run on us,” Schlieff said. “But their quarterback did a lot of draw on us so they got a few yards but other than that our defensive line was awefully solid again and the secondary did a great job in coverage with [Waiwaiole] back there.”
The Panthers sealed the win as kicker Bryant Lymburn made a 32-yard field goal to make it a three-score game. The Panthers struggled in the kicking game as the regular long-snapper was sick during the week, which threw off the timing of the hold and kick. “It hasn’t been the kicker missing the kicks at all,” Schlieff said.