The Prior Lake football team has the talent back to be a factor again come playoff time.
But can the Lakers take the next step? Can the team win on the road in the postseason?
Prior Lake finished 5-4 last season, losing 31-17 at East Ridge in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. It was the program’s 18th consecutive loss away from home in the postseason.
Prior Lake joined the top football class at the start of the 2003 season. The team has done well at home in the playoffs, going 16-1 in that span with the one loss being a 21-19 setback to Bloomington Kennedy in 2010.
But it’s been a different story on the road. Prior Lake is 0-14 on its opponents’ home turf and 0-4 in neutral-site games, which were all in the state quarterfinals.
Despite the playoff road woes, Prior Lake coach Matt Gegenheimer is confident his team can compete with all the top Class 6A teams.
“We feel we can be very competitive week to week, both in our district and in section play no matter who we play,” he said.
The Lakers are not short on talent. The team’s captains are seniors Greg Johnson, Joey Krouse, Luke Crosby, Aidan McGowan and Martin Owusu.
Johnson and Owusu will anchor the offensive and defensive lines, respectively, and both are committed to play Division I next fall at the University of Minnesota.
Both were also selected to the 39th annual KARE-TV Preseason All-Metro Football Team.
Krouse and senior Grayson Spronk look to provide the big plays for the Lakers like they did last year. Spronk led the ground game last fall with 809 yards rushing and four touchdowns, while catching 22 passes for 159 yards and a score.
Krouse had a team-best 526 yards receiving last season and seven touchdowns, while adding 403 yards rushing and three more scores.
Senior Luke Crosby will take over the quarterback duties, while senior Trace Bowman is back for his third varsity season at tight end.
Senior Evan Laughridge and junior Aidan Horel will help anchor the offensive line with Johnson, while junior Hunter MacGillivray will be another running back for the Lakers.
On defense, Owusu and McGowan look to lead the unit. McGowan is one of three returning linebackers, including seniors Aidan Gegenheimer and Bruce Soukup.
Senior Tanner Ruekert returns up front to aid Owusu on the defensive line, while senior Dylan Hanson is back in the secondary.
Juniors Reid Permuth and Jide Abisiri will also play up front on the defensive line, while senior Jack Gilbert will aid the linebacking group and senior Marcus Adam will help in the secondary.
Prior Lake also has one the top kickers in the state in senior Logan Lehrer, who was a perfect 33 for 33 on extra points last season while making 2 of 4 field goals.
“We have a good group of returning starters, but we will have some new faces,” Gegenheimer said. “We like the progress they made this offseason. We will have some guys without much Friday night experience, so they will have a learning curve to go through. But they should be very good players for us when all is said and done.”
Over the last four seasons, Lakers are 19-18 overall, 3-4 in the playoffs.
Prior Lake’s schedule is not easy, which includes perennial power Eden Prairie on the road Sept. 30 and defending Class 6A state champion Lakeville South at home Oct. 7.
The Lakers open the season at home versus Hopkins Sept. 1 and will get rival Shakopee in Week 2 at home Sept. 9.