Lakeland Muskies vs. Concordia Falcons Football Preview
Athletics - posted on 10/19/2006
Football fans in this area know a little something about great football rivalries. On the professional level, there's the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. In Big Ten play, it's the University of Wisconsin and Michigan.
And when you're talking Lakeland College football, it's the annual Cheese Bowl against Concordia University of Wisconsin.
The Muskies and nationally-ranked Falcons, both 4-0 in Illini-Badger Football Conference play, square off Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lakeland's Taylor Field with the winner grabbing sole possession of first place.
Concordia is unbeaten overall at 7-0, and ranked 23rd in this week's American Football Coaches Association Division III poll, and is receiving votes in the d3football.com national poll. Lakeland is 4-3 overall.
Saturday's winner controls its own destiny in the quest to win the IBFC championship and the ticket to the NCAA Division III Playoffs that goes with it, along with the honor of capturing the 15th annual Cheese Bowl title.
"This game will put the winner in the driver's seat to win the conference championship," said Lakeland head coach Jim Zebrowski. "The past four years we've went in undefeated and the conference championship has always been right there."
The Cheese Bowl started between Lakeland and Concordia in 1992 to recognize the fact that they are the only two teams from Wisconsin in the IBFC. Historically, they are also two of the league's top programs as they have combined to win six conference titles over those 14 years.
The Muskies have won the Cheese Bowl five of the 14 times it has been played, including a 17-14 win at Concordia last season, Lakeland's first win over the Falcons since 1999. The Muskies have won back-to-back Cheese Bowl titles only once in 1996 and 1997 when they were also IBFC champions.
Lakeland's players are aware of everything that will be at stake Saturday.
"This year it puts even more of a mark on game with it being senior day, homecoming and our last home game," said senior offensive lineman Ryan Holm. "I just can't wait for the ball to drop and the whistle to blow on Saturday. It's a season maker or breaker. If we win, it gives us a chance to be back-to-back-to-back conference champs, which we've never done before."
"It's like our Super Bowl," added junior wide receiver MacArthur White. "Our season depends on this game. Concordia isn't going to lose to anyone else, so if we lose, it's our season."
To claim a win, the Muskies will have to take out a veteran Concordia squad that features 17 seniors and 16 all-conference players returning from last season.
On offense, the Falcons run the ball exceptionally well, leading the IBFC in rushing offense (300 yards per game) and total offense (409.9 yards per game). The Muskies will have a bulls-eye on senior running backs Aaron Gillespie and Mike Steinmetz. Gillespie is a 2005 All-IBFC second team running back and leads the IBFC this year in all-purpose yards and rushing. Steinmetz was a 2005 All-IBFC first team selection on special teams and trails just behind Gillespie on all-purpose yards in conference.
"Steinmetz is their wing back and he's a game breaker," said Zebrowski. "He's a difference maker."
Senior Bobby Langston, the 2005 IBFC Defensive Lineman of the Year, leads a talented Concordia defensive line and he tops the IBFC in tackles for a loss.
Zebrowski is aware of Concordia's talent, but said much of Lakeland's focus this week is making sure the Muskies play to their potential.
"You can't worry about the other team," said Zebrowski. "We have to focus on how well we play. "
Lakeland will counter with its own solid defense, which last week held MacMurray to just 135 total yards. Sophomore linebacker John Wagner is tied for first in sacks per game in the IBFC with Lakeland sophomore defensive lineman Gary Clark. Wagner is also third in the IBFC in tackles.
"On defense, you just don't want them to get the big play," said Zebrowski. "If they're going to drive, you want them to drive the length of the field. You don't want them to get a quick score."
On offense, White has been virtually unstoppable, leading the conference with an average of 6.71 catches and 79.1 receiving yards per game. Last week against MacMurray, White was in his element with four receptions for 85 yards and a 40-yard kickoff return.
Freshman fullback Dominique Collins, thrust into a starting role to due injuries in Lakeland's backfield, has taken the Muskies' running game to a new level, rushing for 140 and 111 yards in his first two collegiate starts.
"Offensively we have to consistently move the ball and minimize turnovers," said Zebrowski. "We move the ball well; it's just turning over the ball. We need to make the big plays. The last few years this game has come down to who has fewer mistakes and less turnovers. Whoever has done that has been successful.
"I told our guys this week, that it's not a beauty pageant. It doesn't matter how you got here. You're here. It comes down to who plays better and we're pumped up.
"Most Division III teams in week seven right now aren't in a position to play in a game of this magnitude. We're very fortunate. This is what kids come to school for. That's what makes it fun."
Lakeland fans unable to travel to the game can listen to the game live on Concordia's website at the following link http://www.cuw.edu/Athletics/Scoreboard/Scoreboard_no_ads.html.
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