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Anxious to return to the field after a bye week, the Lakeland College football team begins its 2009 Northern Athletics Conference schedule this Saturday on the road against Rockford at Sam Greeley Field at 1 p.m.
The Muskies (0-3), winless in the non-conference portion of their schedule for the third consecutive year, are coming off of a heartbreaking 50-34 loss on September 19 against Carthage. Lakeland led 28-17 five minutes into the third quarter before giving up 26 consecutive points in 14 minutes. The Muskies were boosted by big plays in the first half, including a touchdown from freshman Justin Laack on an 86 yard kickoff return and the first Lakeland interception of the season by junior Bryan Groshek as he took it 53 yards for a touchdown two minutes before halftime.
"It would have been better if we had won but a big play like that can spark the defense," Groshek said. "We have a lot more of those coming."
With two weeks between games, Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty feels confident about the direction his team is heading.
"We're excited to get conference play started," Doherty said. "We had a nice off week. Our kids worked hard and we became a better football team. We had some guys dinged up a little bit but they had a chance to heal, and I think the kids now are anxious to get back to playing football."
Last season, Lakeland broke away to a 33-6 lead over Rockford at halftime and survived 22 unanswered points as Tony Faller grabbed his second interception of the game to escape with a 33-28 victory. The game was the first Northern Athletics Conference football game in school history.
Sophomore running back Jeremy Williams has emerged for the Lakeland offense in the last two games, running for 203 yards and a touchdown. Doherty believes that being able to utilize a balanced offensive attack this week will be crucial to his team's success.
"On offense we need to sustain our drives and control the tempo of the game and the clock," Doherty said. "We need to get first downs and score points every opportunity we have. If we can control the ball on offense we'll be in good shape."
Junior quarterback Jake Dworak has continued to improve on a solid first year at the helm of the Lakeland offense. He is tied for second in the NAC with an average of 226 yards per game and has thrown seven touchdowns to just two interceptions on the season.
"The offense is looking really good," senior wide receiver Jacob Heinemeyer said. "We're looking for a breakout game on Saturday against Rockford. Jake is looking settled in at quarterback and Jeremy has been getting the running game going lately and we're looking for a big week."
Rockford (0-3) enters this week also looking for its first win of the season after a 51-3 blowout loss against Alma. The Regents are only averaging 185 yards of total offense per game and have seven turnovers to just two touchdowns in three games.
"Rockford is a team that we started off strong against and they came back in the second half and gave us a scare towards the end of the game," Doherty said. "This week on defense we have to minimize big plays by their offense and stop their running attack by containing their running backs, and when they do throw make sure we don't get sucked up on the run and give up a lot of yards."
The Muskies will be looking to play a solid four quarters on defense for the first time this season. Opponents have scored 91 points in the second and third quarters this season, 50 points more than the 41 scored in the first and fourth quarters after three games.
"We need to finish," Groshek said. "We've been playing a good first quarter or a good first half and then we lose a little bit of emotion. It's a little different this year now with an entire new front on defense but we're starting to come together as a group. We've been working in practice on what we need to do to bring it for the whole game."
For a team fighting for its first victory, Heinemeier sees the hard work since the beginning of the season starting to pay off.
"We all know what's expected of us and guys are starting to push harder in practice," Heinemeyer said. "We didn't have the results we wanted in our non-conference schedule but our conference schedule starts now and winning the first game means a lot. They all count the same but it's important to get that first one."