Cougars undaunted by road-game challenges

Lakeville South running back Carson Hansen breaks into the Rosemount secondary on his way to a 57-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Cougars' 28-14 victory on Oct. 1. Lakeville South remained undefeated at 5-0.

Top-ranked South tops No. 5 Rosemount

Lakeville South does not dread road games.

Quite the opposite, actually. The Cougars see road games as an opportunity to show people what they’re made of.

“Oh, we enjoy it. It’s fun every week,” senior tight end/defensive end Chase Androff said after South won 28-14 at Rosemount on Oct. 1. “Every team has us marked on the calendar. We get their best crowd, we get everything they give us. It gives us a good challenge.”

Last week’s game matched the No. 1 team (Lakeville South) and No. 5 team (Rosemount) in the state Class 6A rankings. The Cougars and Irish also were two of the three Class 6A teams that finished the pandemic-shortened 2020 season unbeaten, with Eden Prairie being the other. Last year’s playoffs ended after two rounds and South didn’t get to play Rosemount or Eden Prairie, but the Cougars (5-0) made up for this year with victories over the Irish and Eagles.

Class 6A realignment has many top teams in the enrollment class in the Metro Gold sub-district and playing each other during the regular season. Lakeville South’s schedule the last few weeks has been a diet of rivalry games and top-10 showdowns. The Cougars faced Lakeville North, Eden Prairie, Farmington and Rosemount in consecutive weeks, and their next two are against Prior Lake and undefeated Shakopee.

“We want to be the most physical, the most disciplined and the toughest team in the state, and we’ve got to play the toughest teams to do that,” South coach Ben Burk said. “You can’t measure yourself against teams that aren’t at your level.”

South’s Carson Hansen rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns, giving the junior 793 yards and nine touchdowns in five games. Quarterback Camden Dean threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Ryder Patterson in the second quarter and scored on a 1-yard run in the third.

Lakeville South converted on fourth down twice before its opening touchdown, a 22-yard run by Hansen. In the third, a penalty for a chop block put the Cougars in a first-and-25 situation at the Rosemount 34, but Dean threw a 32-yard pass to Androff on the next play, then the quarterback ran it in two snaps later as South stretched its lead to 28-7.

“We could have been better but we had some pretty clutch moments tonight, converting on fourth downs, and a long screen on third down,” Dean said. “I was proud of our guys, and our O-line. We had a tough week with some guys out because of sickness but we rose to the occasion.”

Rosemount (3-2) rallied in the second quarter on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Vincent Pyne to Cedric Wall, and the Irish trailed only 14-7 at halftime. Hansen, however, broke loose for a 57-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the third quarter and the Cougars stayed in control the rest of the way.

That quieted the Rosemount crowd, taking away any home-field advantage the Irish had.

“The home-field advantage thing here used to be the field,” said Burk, referring to the often-slick grass at Irish Stadium that was replaced by artificial turf in 2020. “Now they’ve got this beautiful, brand-new turf and so for us it’s almost like playing at home.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a road game or home game, for us our focus is the same. It’s not even about the guys on the other side of the field, it’s our guys. If we do our job, we’ll play well.”

Easton Richter, who came in at quarterback for Rosemount in the fourth quarter, scored on a 84-yard run with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining.

The Irish made things tougher for themselves with three turnovers – two of which were inside the Lakeville South 20-yard line – and two 15-yard penalties on the defense that helped sustain South touchdown drives.

Pyne passed for 152 yards and completed four to Nathaniel Saba for 53 yards. The Irish rushed for 183 yards but almost half of it came on Richter’s touchdown run in the final two minutes.

Lakeville South lost a fumble and threw an interception, although both came in the fourth quarter after the Cougars were up by 21 points. They were the Cougars’ first two turnovers of the season.

Those blips aside, “we just continue to do our thing,” Dean said. “Pound the ball, throw it when we have to, and execute well. We just believe we’re the better team and we’re going to win every game.”

Lakeville South will try to remain unbeaten when they play at home against Prior Lake (3-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday. Rosemount looks to end a two-game losing streak when it visits Farmington (2-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Tigers’ homecoming game.

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