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Rosemount vs. Lakeville North prep football. Lakeville North's Jordan Cardenas (22). . (MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE(mlevison@startribune.com) ORG XMIT: MIN1310170053057435

 

Greg Menard was a little worried about Lakeville North’s defense heading into the football season. The Panthers finished second in the Class 6A state tournament last fall but lost some key defensive players to graduation.

With four shutouts in eight games this season, it’s safe to say they’ve adjusted well. Lakeville North kicked off the season by blanking Lakeville South 7-0. Bloomington Kennedy and Bloomington Jefferson also failed to score against the Panthers. Just less than two weeks ago, they defeated Eagan by a score of 24-0.

The success stems from a combination of veterans, new players and dynamic schemes.

“We have the versatility of players and playing styles that really gives us an edge in the game,” Menard said. “And the coaching staff has been giving us some really good game plans on defense to get us some shutouts.”

They have the athleticism and ability to effectively do so. Coach Brian Vossen, who also serves as the defensive coordinator, likes to mix it up.

“I try to run our defense like a lot of offenses. Most offenses have a handful of plays, but they’ll run them out of a thousand different looks,” Vossen said. “As a defensive coordinator, you drive yourself crazy trying to figure it all out. For years defensively, we’ve just tried to do the same thing in reverse.”

The Panthers will line the defensive front with two to five players. They will leave receivers open in passing routes and challenge the opposing quarterback to find them. They will stress out opposing offensive linemen and force them to read and react to their blitzes.

It throws off opposing offenses, which have often had to call timeouts to try to decipher the Panthers defense and then regroup.

“They’ve definitely been rattled by what we’ve shown them,” Menard said. “If we’re moving around and changing things up, it really messes with the linemen.”

Menard, a senior and three-year starter, played defensive end in his sophomore and junior seasons. This fall, Menard has seen snaps at defensive tackle, defensive end, outside linebacker, fullback, tailback and other positions.

His fate for the playoffs grew less uncertain after the Panthers’ 36-7 loss to Rosemount last Wednesday. Menard left the game in the first quarter because of what Vossen called an ankle sprain. Menard was on crutches, and Vossen was hoping for a “miracle.”

“He’s been everywhere,” Vossen said of Menard, who is currently uncommitted but is holding about 10 Division I FCS scholarship offers. “We’ve just found that it doesn’t matter where you put him — he’s super good.”

Led by Jamiah Newell, the Panthers had averaged 232 yards per game on the ground entering the Rosemount game. The defense has given up only 67.4 yards per game.

Twin brothers Jesse and Jordan Cardenas have helped the defense give opponents fits. Jesse started last year as a sophomore in the linebacker and safety positions. Jordan, a bit smaller, has come on this year in a variety of roles.

“Both of them are ballers,” Menard said of the junior brothers.

The Panthers hope their defense, with or without Menard, can help lead them back to the Class 6A state tournament.

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