After two losses to start the season, Spring Lake Park picked up its first win, 21-7, at Highway 65 neighbor Fridley Sept. 13.
“Much needed win,” Panthers coach Jeff Schlieff said after an 0-2 start. “You work so hard in the winter, spring and summer and put all that time in and to come up with a couple tough losses was hard, but they went into the game with a great attitude.”
For the first time this season the Panthers, who like to use key players on both sides of the ball, didn’t have to deal with the heat, too. “We just had more pep and energy this week,” Schlieff said.
One example Schlieff gave was running back/linebacker Eji Ejodamen, who posted 19 total tackles (12 solos). He also ran 16 times for 56 yards on offense. The 6-3, 186-pound senior captain has 55 total tackles (40 solos) and rushed for 213 yards on offense in three games so far this season. His 20 solo tackles against Irondale the previous week set a program record (16 was the previous high).
The coach pointed to Ejodamen’s lack of stellar offensive statistics, but he’s more than made up for that on defense. “He’s getting lots of tackles,” Schlieff said. “We’re watching him on film and notice he’s just one of those guys who doesn’t come off the field.”
Schlieff likes to insert his backup quarterback for at least one series each game to gain experience since as he puts it, “you’re always one play from going in.”
With that in mind, Panthers backup quarterback Derek Salwei had a perfect QB rating of 158.3 after going 3-for-3 for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback controversy? I don’t think so.
“He does some things very well,” Schlieff said. “And we wanted to get him into the game on the third series. He took us right down the field on the series, going 2-for-2 with a touchdown. He offers a nice change of pace for us from [starting quarterback] Austin Swenson.”
The first score was followed by a long drive by Fridley which stalled within the shadow of the goal line. Not giving up points was a key point for Spring Lake Park’s defense all game.
“They had [306 yards] passing, but we always tightened up and stopped them in the red zone three times,” Schlieff said, including a couple of first down and goal situations from the 5-yard line.
“We were saved by a penalty and dropped passes but our defense made them run out of room,” he said.
One of those stands gave the Panthers offense the ball on their own 2-yard line. Swenson made quick work and after rushing ahead two yards he found receiver Aaron Murphy on a 96-yard touchdown that gave the visitors a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Panthers junior cornerback Josh Bauer came up with a big interception to preserve the two-touchdown lead into halftime.
The big passing play was a rarity for Spring Lake Park, which likes to use its running offense to frustrate the opposition. It almost passed for more yards (163) than rushing (166), which would have been a first for the program in quite some time.
“Usually that’s a sign of a team that can’t run well, unless its designed that way,” Schlieff said. Running back Grant Walter had eight carries for 91 yards to lead the Panthers.
Spring Lake Park turned the ball over twice to start the second half and the one-score lead left Schlieff nervous about the outcome until the closing minutes.
“It was a typically, great Spring Lake Park and Fridley match-up,” he said.
This week the Panthers welcome Robbinsdale Copper for its Tackle for Cancer benefit with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
Jason Olson is at