Defense dominates as Muskies reclaim Cheese Bowl trophy, 37-7
Athletics - posted on 11/8/2008
For his effort Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field, Lakeland senior linebacker John Wagner had a cracked chin strap, 13 tackles, a fumble recovery for a touchdown and the satisfaction of seeing the Cheese Bowl trophy return to Lakeland's trophy case.
In as dominating a performance as this rivalry has seen in recent memory, Lakeland's defense overwhelmed Concordia, Wis., en route to a 37-7 win that leaves the Muskies a win away from a conference championship and a return to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Lakeland (5-4, 5-1 Northern Athletics Conference) will play at Aurora, Ill., (8-1, 6-0) next Saturday with the NAC title and the league's automatic playoff berth awarded to the winner.
Lakeland's defense scored nine of the Muskies' points Saturday, they did not allow a CUW touchdown (the Falcons' defense scored on fumble recovery for a TD in the game's first two minutes) and limited the league's top rushing unit to just 25 yards rushing, 148 yards below their 173-yard average.
These 2008 Lakeland seniors were freshmen when the Muskies last won the Cheese Bowl trophy in 2005, the year the program made its only NCAA playoff appearance. They took turns holding that rather unattractive trophy - which always looks so beautiful to the winner of this game - long after the final buzzer Saturday, soaking in the thrill of reclaiming bragging rights in this intense rivalry.
"Since we won it as a freshman, I kind of kept that feeling in my head," Wagner said. "It was a really special feeling to hold that trophy up and know we had a shot to finish this off and win a championship. We're back in that position again.
"Despite all the coaching changes, players coming and going, this is Lakeland football and I'm so glad I stayed here. There is so much pride on this field. I love this field, I love the people here - man, I wouldn't change this for the world."
Lakeland mustered all the offense it needed in the first half, tying the game at seven when sophomore quarterback Jake Dworak found junior wide receiver Jacob Heinemeyer with a 4-yard pass. The Muskies big-play offense took the lead for good on an 89-yard bomb from Dworak to senior receive Matt Pawlyk, Lakeland's longest offensive play in a season of long plays.
"We have not been a four yards and a cloud of dust type offense," Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty said. "We've been a big play offense, and our best players are at receiver. We caught them in some coverages where we could take advantage of our athletes and what they do well."
But this was the defense's day, as it added a safety early in the fourth quarter to punctuate a memorable victory.
"It was our defensive line versus their offensive line and we got penetration all day long," senior defensive lineman Mike Nerat said. "We screwed up their play action. Our linebackers flowed over the top - they just played awesome today.
"This is almost unexplainable. Last year we got it taken away from us late in the game when they came back and won it. Today, we kept that in the back of our mind that they took it from us last year."
Concordia (4-5, 4-2) finished with 121 total yards and just nine first downs, and was 0 for 17 on third down.
"We were aggressive," Wagner said. "We were fast today and we played as a unit. We played hard and we were relentless."
It's the third straight shutout for Lakeland's defense, which was humbled after a 35-32 loss at Concordia Chicago back on Oct. 18.
"Our defense has been playing lights out the last three games," Doherty said. "We tackled today, we got to the point of attack, we wrapped up and we got off blocks. We've got some decent speed, especially on the perimeter, and I know they like to attack the perimeter.
"To be able to get out to the perimeter on us, you've got to be able to block us, and I thought our kids did a good job of getting off their blocks. We played the third quarter a lot in our half of the field, and when they had to punt, we were getting the ball at midfield. If we scored, great, and if we had to punt it, we were pinning them. We definitely won the battle of field position."
Pawlyk finished the day with five catches for 150 yards and two TDs. Heinemeyer, a former QB who played much of the second half lining up in the backfield, added a 57-yard rushing TD to go with his TD catch. He had 77 rushes yards on four carries to go with 75 receiving yards on three catches.
Dworak finished 11 of 28 for 252 yards with three TDs and three interceptions. Freshman running back Ben Duenas had 101 yards rushing on 13 carries, including a 68-yard run in the fourth quarter that set up Lakeland's final TD, a Dworak 8-yard pass to Pawlyk.
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