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Heading into its final non-conference game of the season, the Lakeland College football team is still looking for its first victory of the year as the Muskies face in-state rival Carthage on Saturday night in Kenosha.
The Red Men, bolstered by a strong spread offense, pose a significant threat to an improving but inexperienced Lakeland defense.
"Defensively, we're seeing steady improvement," Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty said. "There are a lot of guys out there for the first time that are starting to gel and come together as a group. I know we're starting to improve because we've started to execute our defensive game plan better. We've had some goal line stops and some good three and out situations, now we just need to start making some big plays and improve on individual technique."
Last weekend the Muskies held Mount St. Joseph to a first quarter touchdown before falling apart before halftime, giving up three touchdowns in the final eight minutes of the half. Lakeland has given up 42 total points in the second quarter and has been outscored 52-10 in the first half.
"Right now we're focusing on correcting our mistakes and trying to get a win," Doherty said. "To do that we need to keep working hard and make sure our guys have good attitude, because if you make physical and mental mistakes on Saturday and don't have a good attitude during the week you aren't going to make positive changes."
Quarterback Jake Dworak had another strong week, completing 17-of-31 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His two favorite targets, receivers Jacob Heinemeyer and Roberto Flores, combined for 12 catches and 193 yards on the day and accounted for all three touchdowns. Flores is averaging 137 receiving yards per game, ranking him 16th in the nation and top in the NAC.
Running back Jeremy Williams had a breakout afternoon as he pounded out 128 yards on 27 carries. It was the first time he had surpassed the century mark in his career as he averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Carthage comes into the matchup having won its season opener 26-19 at Hope. Quarterback Evan Jones led the Red Men down the field twice in the fourth quarter as Carthage scored 14 points in the final eight minutes, including the game-winning touchdown with 50 seconds remaining on the clock for the win. Jones threw for 249 yards while collecting a team-high 60 rushing yards in the victory.
Jones is surrounded by a talented group of skill players starting with senior receivers Jeff Koeneman and Nick Merchut. Each went for over 100 yards receiving against Lakeland last season as Carthage passed for 436 yards. Rick Loisi and Mike Koeneman will also see plenty of time at receiver as they will spend most of their time in the spread offense.
"We need to force their offense to execute at 100 percent and capitalize on any mistakes they make," Doherty said. "We can't allow missed tackles or poor execution this week to help them out."
Defensively, Carthage starts three seniors and four juniors in the front seven. With four sophomores rounding out the defensive secondary, Lakeland will likely look for big plays again from its passing offense.
"Carthage is an attacking defense that moves around, their linebackers move downhill and like to blitz and they play a lot of man coverage and get to the quarterback," Doherty said. "From our offensive standpoint, one of our goals has been that we want to maintain balance on our offensive attack both on the ground and in the air, and I want to keep that going throughout the season. Sometimes you have to adjust during a game but our goal is to have success in both places."