Tale of the Week - Lakeland Football Gains First Ever Playoff Berth
Athletics - posted on 10/31/2005
At the beginning of the season, head football coach Jim Zebrowski and his team made a checklist for the season.
Each item on the list was linked to the next, and provided a road map of sorts for a special season.
The first item was checked off two weeks ago when the Muskies beat Concordia, Wis., and won the Cheese Bowl for the first time in five years.
This past Saturday, thanks to a 58-0 demolition of Aurora, Lakeland clinched the Illini-Badger Football Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. It will mark the first playoff appearance in the history of the 71-year-old Lakeland football program.
"When the season started we said we want to go to the playoffs," said senior quarterback Ryan Maiuri, who has been key to the Muskies' success this season. "That's what our expectations were and we worked hard to do it."
When Zebrowski came on board before the 2003 season, Lakeland was coming off a four-year stretch when they finished no higher than fourth in the IBFC.
Since then, the Muskies have gone 18-2 in the IBFC. Last year, the team won its first conference championship since 1997, but fell short of a playoff bid because a tiebreaker won by Aurora.
This year, there will be no need for a tiebreaker, as the Muskies have steamrolled through the IBFC, winning by an average margin of 39.7 points.
Some will attribute it to maturing players, but only four seniors are starting for a defense that allowed only 116 yards to the Spartans on Saturday, the bulk of those coming in the final quarter when the game was well in hand.
Lakeland clearly has a team that is clicking on all cylinders.
"We have 11 people going for the ball on every play," senior defensive end David Benton said. "We have a lot of freshmen playing, but we told them that if you're playing, you're not freshmen anymore."
Benton has been one of the reasons the defense has been so good. He has only played in seven games this season due to a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the Carthage and UW-Whitewater games, but he has tallied 12 sacks on the season, including 3.5 against MacMurray on Homecoming.
Benton and his fellow defensive linemen, senior Nick Zeck and juniors Josh Labelle and Shane Schrimpf, have arguably become the most formidable front four in the league.
"We all click, we all do our jobs, and we all know our purpose on the defense," Zeck said. "This is the best the team has been playing in the years that I've been here."
On the offense, the main threat has been Maiuri. For the second year in a row, he has reached 2,000 yards of total offense. This year he has passed for 1,497 yards and rushed for 781, both team highs.
Even though opposing defenders know Maiuri is a threat to run or pass, they've still had trouble stopping him.
He attributes his success to his offensive line, which consists of fellow seniors Andrew Argall, Brian Eder, and Bryon Vandlen, junior Ryan Holm and sophomore Joseph Puhl.
"My role is pretty much nonexistent without my offensive line," Maiuri said. "I just do what I can. Whatever they give me I take."
The rest of the offense consists of a group of emerging stars, including junior wide receiver McArthur White (29 catches for 559 yards and six touchdowns) and a pair of running backs: sophomore Shawn Lee (72 rushes for 431 yards and five touchdowns) and freshman Brandon Erdman (74 rushes for 467 yards and six touchdowns).
It's a combination that has made Lakeland athletics history this fall, although there are still a few more items on the checklist that represented unfinished business: an undisputed, undefeated conference championship and a playoff win.
"We obviously have goals, and everything's just a step," said senior linebacker Nick Hunter. "The next step for us is winning conference (outright)."
With a win next week over Greenville, they can do just that.
"We have to finish the job and beat Greenville," said Benton. "We don't want to share the conference with nobody."
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