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The Lakeland College football team will look to keep its perfect Illini-Badger Football Conference record intact Saturday when the Muskies host winless MacMurray College.
Kickoff between the Muskies (3-3, 3-0 IBFC) and Highlanders (0-5, 0-3 IBFC) is at 1 p.m. at Lakeland's Taylor Field.
On offense, the Highlanders' biggest threats are freshman running back Chris Booker and freshman quarterback Robert Brooks. Booker is fifth in the conference in all purpose yards, averaging 84.2 yards per game, while Brooks is averaging 73.8 yards per game in total offense.
"On both sides of the ball, the biggest difference is age," said Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty. "They are a young team, so we have to take advantage of that at certain positions. Obviously with age is experience, so we're a more experienced football team total. But still we have to execute.
"They play two freshmen quarterbacks, Brooks and Damarien Hampton. We have to be able to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each quarterback when they are in. Booker is a pretty athletic kid. They have a good balance of running and throwing the ball, but I think their strength is running. Their quarterback scrambles, so whenever you have an athletic quarterback that can scramble, that can be dangerous. "
The Muskies will once again count on a defense that has been solid all season, especially in conference play. In last week's 32-9 homecoming victory over Eureka, the Muskies defense led the way. Junior linebackers John Wagner and Stephan Johnson both dominated the game as the two overwhelmed Eureka's offense with a combined 21 tackles and four quarterback sacks.
Wagner, who had eight tackles and two sacks, scored his first career touchdown after grabbing a punt blocked by junior linebacker Brent Miller. Johnson finished with 13 tackles and a pair of sacks, including three and a half tackles for a loss of 25 yards. Wagner had two tackles for a loss of 22 yards.
"Defensively, Wagner and Johnson had great games last week," said Doherty. "Our defense, especially our linebackers are playing great. They are all starting to click. Wagner is coming into his own a little bit and Steph (Johnson) is right there too."
Doherty is looking for consistency on offense.
"We have to make better decisions when we throw the ball sometimes," said Doherty. "We are just inconsistent play to play. We'll make a great play, then make a unwise play. We have to protect the football a little better and establish our running game, which is getting better each game. I am just waiting for a break-out day for our offense to click on all cylinders, and hopefully that will happen this week. We have days where we can run, but can't throw, and the next week we can throw, but can't run. I am just waiting us to do both together in one game and I think we have a good opportunity to this week.
"MacArthur White (senior wide receiver) could have a big day for us on offense. He can't control everything himself. Someone has to get him the ball, and for someone to get him the ball, someone has to protect. If things are going good, I think Mac could have big day."
White continues to dominate the conference in all purpose yardage with 108 yards per game, and receptions with an average of 4.5 per game.
Doherty is pleased with the recent play of Lakeland's special teams - White and Billy Hughes have each been named IBFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice this year - but he's looking for some improvements with a critical four games stretch remaining.
"We have done a great job scoring on special teams this year, and we have to keep doing that," said Doherty, noting that the Muskies have scored on blocked punts in each of the last two games. "I wish we could do a little better on kickoff coverage because we're giving up a few more yards than I like. I'd also like to get a few more yards on our returns, although that's tough because no one is really kicking to us. I'd like to get a few more yards out of punt returns as well."
"Our punting game has really helped our defense. It really pumps them up when the other team's offense is starting a drive on their 2 yard line or even on the 20."
Lakeland is currently tied for first in the IBFC with Concordia, Wis., the Muskies' next opponent. The two will battle for the annual Cheese Bowl title - and possible for sole possession of first place - in Mequon on Oct. 20.
"We just need to play a solid game against MacMurray," Doherty said. "I keep telling the guys we have a four-game schedule remaining, and if we take care of these last four, everything else will take care of itself."