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After opening the season with a tough three-game non-conference schedule, the Lakeland College football team is hungry for a win as the Muskies open Illini-Badger Football Conference play this Saturday at Greenville College at 1 p.m. in Greenville, Ill.
It's an important early-season game for both the Panthers (1-1) and Muskies (0-3) since Greenville was picked to finish second in the IBFC preseason coaches poll this season, just ahead of third-place Lakeland. The two teams joined Aurora in a three-way tie for second in the IBFC last fall, and Lakeland won the head-to-head meeting, 28-13, in the league opener for both teams in 2006.
Lakeland's offense will need to create scoring opportunities, pass more efficiently and create a run game to bring home a conference win this weekend, said Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty. The Muskies' defense needs to contain the Panthers' offense, led by versatile junior quarterback Dominic Kegel. He leads the IBFC in total offense with 246 yards this season, and he was the IBFC offensive co-player of the week the first week of the season. Kegel had a hand in all five Greenville touchdowns in a 34-10 season-opening win over Blackburn with 17 rushing attempts for 106 yards and two TD, and 14-for-21 passing for 140 yards and three TDs.
"Their offense is explosive," Doherty said. "Their quarterback is a great athlete. He's the guy we have to be careful of because he's capable of making the big plays. Obviously we can't ignore everyone else, but he is going to be the guy to really watch. If their offense is playing good, it's because he's playing good.
"Defensively, they pursue well to the ball and run well. They don't really have standout individuals, but right now they are playing well as a team on defense. They are going through some changes on defensive as they are only bringing back five starters and we need to capitalize on that."
Greenville senior defensive lineman Justin Grant was named the IBFC Defensive Player of the Week after a big day in last week's 35-28 loss at Taylor (Ind.) College. Grant had five solo tackles and three assisted tackles, with 3.5 tackle for a loss of 26 yards and two sacks for 17 yards.
Despite the 0-3 record, Doherty feels confident going into his first conference game as a head coach. He is no stranger to IBFC games, having spent a total of seven seasons as offensive coordinator at IBFC members Aurora and MacMurray before coming to Lakeland.
"I feel our non-conference schedule has really prepared us from a speed and physical standpoint, but at the same time it has beat us up too," said Doherty.
Lakeland will be looking for its special teams to have another great week. Lakeland junior punter/kicker Billy Hughes (Brooksville, Fla./Nature Coast Tech) was named IBFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against UW-Oshkosh last Saturday, the third straight week a Muskie has captured the league's special teams honor.
Hughes was solid in the Muskies' 62-7 loss to the Titans with eight punts for an average of 38.5 yards, with a long of 47 yards. Hughes leads the Muskies in punting this season, averaging 36.5 yards per punt this season.
The previous two weeks, senior wide receiver MacArthur White (Zion, Ill./Zion Benton) garnered IBFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. White won the honor in week one when he returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown, the lone score of the day for the Muskies in a loss to two-time Division III national runner-up UW-Whitewater. The following week, White earned the honor again for returning five kickoffs for a total of 199 yards, averaging 23.8 yards a return with a long of 58 yards in a 35-16 loss at Carthage College.
The Muskies will end their four-game road stretch next week when they take on Benedictine University. Game time is set for 1 p.m. in Lisle, Ill.