Spring Lake Park continued to turn its season around with a 41-13 win at North St. Paul Sept. 27. Not only was the win the third in a row for the Panthers, but 41 points equals the previous week’s total (41-20 win against Robbinsdale Cooper).
That much point production came after an intense week of practices.
“As a team we were really fired up to get back out there and our offensive line just keeps progressively getting better,” Panthers senior running back Grant Walter said after another impressive performance from the speedster.
Walter rushed for 205 yards and four touchdowns including a 71-yard scamper on the first offensive play.
He averaged 17.1 yards on 12 carries after tallying 161 yards and three touchdowns against Cooper. Walter now has 577 yards and seven touchdowns on the season averaging nine yards per carry. He returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown against Cooper Sept. 20.
“We’re fired up to keep things rolling,” Walter said after the Panthers’ slow start to the season in his final season of prep ball. “That gets us pumped up [knowing this is for high school football] coach [Jeff Schlieff] who always says how many practices we have left in the season.”
Walter said the message leading up to the season’s first win (21-7 at Fridley Sept. 13) helped motivate the squad. “He asked how we were feeling and some said mopey, embarrassed,” Walter said. “He ask who was [poed]. That got us into the right mind set and back on the right track.”
Walter, a 5-9, 152-pound back, has state-track meet speed, but he credits the offensive line for opening the running lanes saying most of his yards have come between the tackles.
“Right up the middle,” he said when asked where he likes to beat the defense. “The [offensive line] has been progressively getting better and opening up big holes for me.”
Walter had touchdowns on runs of 17, 38 and 38 yards at North St. Paul after scoring on runs of four yards and one yard against Cooper.
“He finds a little crease [at the line of scrimmage] and he runs by people,” Schlieff said about Walter.
When asked if he prefers running through defenses or stopping those offenses from his spot in the secondary, Walter takes the defensive success more to heart. “I enjoy both, but there’s something about defense,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in what we do.”
That might be easier to do with the group around him as well led by linebackers Eji Ejiya and Richie Toweh.
“They’re playing phenomenally right now, too,” Walter said.
Who is the fastest? Walter said they compete a lot and keep it friendly but he wouldn’t go so far to say who comes out on top.
With the Spring Lake Park style of offense, moving bodies out of the way greatly helps the offense keep marching down the field and control the pace.
The offensive line had Josh White back at his guard position until the staff moved him out to tight end as the game moved on. The move was made after starting tight end and defensive end Ryan Amundson went down with an injured back. White caught one of three passes completed for a team-high 36 yards.
Fellow running backs Toweh and Ejiya also scored touchdowns while holding down the middle of the Panthers defense as starting linebackers. Toweh ran for a 28-yard touchdown and finished with 46 yards on five carries. Ejiya had 34 yards on 10 carries and a two-yard score in the third quarter.
The Polars’ only lengthy score came on a 25-yard toss play by Akeem Sirleaf, who was part of a state-track 4×200 relay team, and took the pitch in one direction before reversing field and beating Toweh to the corner of the end zone for the score.
“[Toweh] almost did too good of a job on the play because he made [Sirleaf] stop in his tracks and reverse almost 15 yards,” Schlieff said. “That’s just how fast [Sirleaf] is and [Toweh] almost got him at the goal line.”
The Panthers hit the road to face Class 4A, Glencoe-Silver Lake Oct. 4 for the final regular season away game.
Spring Lake Park returns home to face St. Louis Park and Benilde-St. Margaret’s Oct. 11 and 16.
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