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Surprise QB for Lakeville North leads defending 6A champs past Woodbury

By DAVID LA VAQUE, Star Tribune, 08/29/19, 9:00PM CDT


RaJa Nelson, a running back on the depth chart, ran for two touchdowns and also played on defense and special teams in a 24-7 victory.

Lakeville North's RaJa Nelson (7), playing quarterback, was stopped on a second quarter run by Woodbury's Cole Smutny (22). Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com

Opposing coaches and friends, Brian Vossen of Lakeville North and Andy Hill of Woodbury engaged in a little gamesmanship as kickoff approached Thursday.

Hill noticed senior RaJa Nelson, the Panthers’ outstanding running back and receiver, taking snaps at quarterback. Hill asked Vossen, “You going to try and sneak him in on the first play?”

Vossen replied, “We might play him there the whole game.”

Hill’s intuition told him Vossen wasn’t joking. Sure enough, Nelson played quarterback well into the fourth quarter in the Panthers’ 24-7 road victory. He ran 16 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

Nelson, a Star Tribune All-Metro First Team selection last year in the “athlete” category, was a known gamebreaker for the defending Class 6A Prep Bowl champions. But never as a quarterback. Until now.

“You think the secret is out now?” Vossen said. “He’s a talented kid. There is a learning curve but this is his fourth year. No one is more poised and ready for what’s happening on gameday than RaJa Nelson.”

Primarily asked to run the ball, Nelson’s moves and ability to escape tacklers flummoxed Woodbury coaches. “We had him for a loss,” one lamented inside the press box as Nelson drove the Panthers into field goal range.

An assistant smacked the wall on the next Lakeville North possession as Nelson turned another potential loss into an 8-yard run to Woodbury’s 5-yard line. Nelson finished the drive with his first score and the Panthers led 10-0.

First report

Defending Class 6A Prep Bowl champion Lakeville North unveiled a surprise at quarterback on Thursday at Woodbury.

RaJa Nelson, a Star Tribune All-Metro First Team selection last year in the “athlete” category, is a known gamebreaker. But not at quarterback. Until now.

Nelson, listed at running back on the team’s depth chart, keyed the top-ranked Panthers’ 24-7 victory. He ran for two scores and kept an otherwise stagnant offense moving. He also played cornerback, punted and was the holder on place kicks.

Special teams also produced. Defensive end Landon Carter, another returning standout, blocked a Woodbury punt attempt that teammate Jacob Young recovered in the end zone.

Woodbury tried both veteran quarterbacks Jake Wenzel and Charlie Wilson with little success. Wenzel ran for a score with 15 seconds left.

Check back later for more on the game.

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