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It didn't take long for new Lakeland College head football coach Kevin Doherty to get introduced to the Cheese Bowl.
"When I got hired, I asked our custodian, Paul Temme, if there was anything I could do to help him," Doherty said. "He said 'I like all of our trophies, but I sure would like to see that Cheese Bowl trophy back in our trophy case.' "
Saturday in Mequon, the Muskies will try to make the custodian at the Wehr Athletic Center, not to mention the rest of the Lakeland faithful, very happy.
Lakeland faces rival Concordia, Wis., at 1 p.m. in the latest chapter in the Cheese Bowl, and that's just the beginning of the story lines in the most anticipated game of the Illini-Badger Football Conference season.
The Muskies (winners of four straight) and Falcons (winners of five straight) are both 4-0 in conference play, so Saturday's winner will have control of its own destiny with two weeks to play in the final season of the IBFC. But that's nothing new for these two programs: Lakeland and Concordia have finished either first or second in the IBFC for the past four seasons.
To make things a little more interesting, Concordia (5-2) has not allowed a point in conference play, beating Aurora, Concordia-Chicago, MacMurray and Eureka by a combined 189-0 score.
"I think all the pressure is on them," Doherty said. "They have to repeat as conference champs, repeat as Cheese Bowl champs, and their defense is wondering who is going to be the first conference team to score on them. Plus it's their homecoming game and it's their senior day. We're just going to show up and play football.
"Now, with all those distractions, they're still really good. Just showing up is not going to win this game."
Concordia has won six of the last seven meetings with Lakeland, but there are several Lakeland starters who were part of a 17-14 win in 2005 in Mequon that brought that Cheese Bowl trophy back to Lakeland.
"Even though it could quite possibly be one of the ugliest trophies that I have ever seen, I am excited to play for it," said Josh Labelle, a three-year starter on the defensive line that's starting on the offense line this year. "Saturday's game is the game that we have marked down in our calendar as soon as the season is over. This is our in-state rival, and we know that this is probably going to be the conference championship game.
"I just want to hold that Cheese Bowl trophy one more time, just to say that I got to hold that trophy twice and both times it meant that we were conference champions."
Senior Craig Van Dera, Lakeland's special teams captain, said the annual matchup with Concordia, Wis., is a special rivalry that he will miss.
"This is the one game that most of our training in the off-season goes for," Van Dera said. "This is the game that we think about during workouts and training camp. Our whole season comes down to the Cheese Bowl."
On the field, there's plenty more to talk about, as the game matches the two teams at the top of the league in most statistical categories. Offensively, Lakeland will have to control Concordia's powerful defensive line and linebackers, while avoiding the turnovers and penalties that have sometimes made things difficult this season.
Concordia has allowed just 56 points all season, and leads the IBFC in passing defense (allowing just 111.9 yards per game) and rushing defense (85.1 yards per game). Lakeland counters with senior quarterback Brad Wilk, who leads the IBFC in passing at 186.3 yards per game and 12 touchdowns.
"Offensively, we can't have any turnovers, especially in the red zone," Doherty said. "When we have an opportunity to score, we have to come away with points. We have to play more physical this week. Their linebackers are very aggressive and play hard against the run, their defensive line is big and strong and they've got defensive backs that can run. They are extremely physical with hitting receivers on the line and they do a great job of re-routing or slowing down receivers to get them off course."
Defensively, Lakeland will have to control Concordia's running game. The Falcons average 282.6 yards per game on the ground, and have a versatile attack with four backs that average between 41 and 59 yards rushing per game.
"They run a lot of misdirection with pulling and trapping," Doherty said. "They are very good at what they do and they adjust. We have to find the football and make tackles, force them to play from behind and force them to beat us with the pass. They have a lot of weapons and a lot of speed."
Doherty is looking for continued strong play from special teams, which has blocked a punt in three straight games and secured strong field position all season on kickoffs and punts.
Despite all the story lines, Doherty and his players said the bottom line is winning and being in control atop the IBFC standings with two weeks to play. For many Lakeland seniors, this season is a chance to win a third conference championship to go with the shared title in 2004 and the 2005 crown.
"To be a senior and to have the chance to get three rings in four years is a great feeling," Labelle said. "I love playing in games that mean so much to both teams because it always brings the best out in both teams."