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Coming off of a second half collapse against Concordia Chicago, the Lakeland College football team looks to keep its conference championship hopes alive this weekend as it travels to Lisle, Ill., for a Northern Athletics Conference contest with Benedictine on Saturday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m.
Leading 32-21 and deep in Concordia territory, the Muskies (2-4, 2-1 NAC) mishandled the snap on second-and-goal from the Concordia four yard line, resulting in a Concordia Chicago fumble recovery. The turnover resulted in a 93 yard Cougars drive for their first of three touchdowns in the second half and led 20 unanswered points in the 41-32 loss.
"In the second half everything fell apart with turnovers," Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty said. "When we turned it over inside the five yard line on the first drive in the third quarter, we just couldn't rebound mentally from those mistakes and it cost us emotionally down the stretch."
Compounding the Muskies' struggles in the second half was a speedy Concordia Chicago offense led by quarterback Mike Marotta. Marotta played his best game of the season, throwing for five touchdowns and 411 yards against the Muskies, the second time Lakeland has given up five scores in the air this year.
"This is the second time this season when we've had a lead at halftime and haven't played well in the second half," Doherty said. "Offensively we can't make crucial mistakes in the red zone and defensively we need to get three and outs. That's what happened both times this season when we've had leads at halftime and couldn't hold on. We made mistakes on both sides of the ball, weren't able to get our offense going and couldn't get stops on defense when we needed to."
The Lakeland focus on defense shifts back to stopping the run this week. The Eagles (3-3, 2-1) lead the NAC with 143.7 yards of rushing per game. They ran for 236 yards last week in a 32-6 win over Maranatha. Freshman John Alessi picked up the bulk of the yards, running for a season-high 201 yards on 30 carries.
The Muskies shut down the Benedictine rushing attack last season, holding them to 53 yards of rushing and 132 total yards of offense. Lakeland will look to force Benedictine to throw, where the Eagles are sixth in the NAC with just 109 yards per game.
"They're a good rushing team and are committed to running the football," Doherty said. "Primarily we need to stop the run and force them to beat us by doing something that's uncharacteristic of what they like to do, which is throw the ball. They have upgraded and they have some big play potential on offense. They have receivers that can run and a quarterback that is getting better each week."
Lakeland will likely once again depend on running back Jeremy Williams to pace the offense. The resurgent sophomore continued his break-out campaign last weekend with 116 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and remains the top rusher in the NAC with 549 yards on the season.
Quarterback Jake Dworak will look for better results after throwing three interceptions against Concordia. The Lakeland signal-caller threw for four touchdowns last season against Benedictine and has thrown at least two touchdowns in five of six games this season.
Lakeland will be tested by a senior-laden defensive group that is second in the NAC with 157 passing yards allowed per game.
"Defensively, their linebackers are exceptional and they have a couple of defensive linemen that are very athletic and physical," Doherty said. "They're a senior-dominated team who have been playing together for a few years and understand what they need to do to win, and that makes it more important for us to be on our game this weekend.
"We have to create turnovers and minimize our turnovers. They have a good special teams unit and a strong punter, so field position could be what decides this game."