Seniors hope to make final home game memorable
Athletics - posted on 10/31/2007
What better gift for the seniors on the Lakeland College football team to give to themselves on Senior Day than a little jewelry?
If the Muskies (5-4, 5-1) beat visiting Aurora (4-4, 4-2) in the regular season finale this Saturday, they will earn at least a share of the final Illini-Badger Football Conference championship, then begin the enviable task of designing their championship ring.
Kickoff with the Spartans is set for 12 p.m. at Lakeland's Taylor Field.
"If someone had said before the season started 'What would be the perfect season?' it would either be playing for the conference championship or having clinched it in the final week," said Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty. "Our 13 seniors are playing their last game at Taylor Field, and we're playing for the conference title. It will be a tribute to these seniors if we can win what would be the third conference title in four years here."
Doherty said Lakeland's seniors have made his first season as a head coach memorable.
"All the success we've had this year, we would not have had without our seniors," Doherty said. "If there is a group that this coaching transition affected most it's them. They were facing new expectations and they didn't know how I coached. They've done a great job of leading this team and keeping guys on track day to day.
"The only bad thing about our seniors is I only get to coach one year - I wish they were all juniors. I think we're pretty classy on the field, but we're classier off the field. These are high integrity individuals, and there are a lot of future Lakeland alumni success stories among this group."
This will be Lakeland's final IBFC game, as the Muskies will be playing Northern Athletics Conference football beginning next fall.
"It's been a special conference because the members all established some unique rivalries," said Doherty, who has coached eight seasons in the IBFC at three member schools: Lakeland, Aurora and MacMurray. "I can recall some Aurora and MacMurray games going down to the last play or overtime. I know Lakeland and Concordia, Wis., have had some great games.
"The core of this conference is going into the NAC, so I don't look at it as a new conference as much as enhancing this conference and giving it a new name. It's going to be exciting next year to play schools like Wisconsin Lutheran and rest of our campus knows them because we play them in other sports."
Success for Lakeland Saturday will start with containing Aurora sophomore running back Ryne Reder, the IBFC's leading rusher at 121.4 yards per game.
"He's not a real big running back, but he is a big play running back," Doherty said. "He's excellent at making the first person miss - it's hard to get that first hit on him. If he gets in the open field and you miss tackles, he's going to get big runs. But we can't just worry about him. The last team we played that was primarily a running team (Concordia, Wis.) beat us with the pass."
Lakeland's defense has excelled the last several weeks, including a performance last week that saw the Muskies generate five Concordia University Chicago turnovers in a lopsided 56-7 victory.
Senior Josh Schramm, who was named to the d3football.com Team of the Week, picked off a pair of passes in that game and recovered a fumble, and junior John Wagner registered a dozen tackles. Wagner is rated 11th in the nation in Division III in solo tackles per game at 7.1.
The Muskies continue to get outstanding play from special teams. Senior MacArthur White leads the nation in kickoff returns averaging 34.2 yards per return. Sophomore Jacob Heinemeyer, who returned a pair of punts for touchdowns in the CUC win and was named IBFC Special Teams Player of the Week and to the d3football.com Team of the Week, is seventh in the nation in punt returns at 16.2 yards per return.
White is also the league's top receiver, and he'll lead an offense facing an Aurora defense that's one of the best in the IBFC, allowing teams an average of just 15.8 points per game.
"They're young, but they're experienced because they had a lot of freshmen and sophomores that played last season," Doherty said.
He should know. Doherty, a 1995 Aurora graduate, spent five seasons as the Spartans' offensive coordinator prior to coming to Lakeland, so he is planning an attack this week that will be going against some familiar faces.
"I don't know if I treat that as an advantage for us or not," Doherty said. "I know some of their abilities and personnel, and it raises a level of concern for me because I have respect for their abilities. I had some special relationships that I established at Aurora, and I've been hearing from people there all season. Ironically, I haven't gotten those calls and emails this week, which is understandable."
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