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Members of the Lakeland College football team are looking forward to lining up this Saturday against some players who are not wearing blue and gold.
The Muskies face finally kick off the 2010 season, and they''ll face a new opponent when they host Carroll University at Taylor Field on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 1 p.m.
The Muskies are hoping to reverse a recent early-season trend. Lakeland hasn''t won a season or home opener since beating Northwestern ( Minn. ) in 2005, a 27-15 victory. "This is a big pressure game for us," said senior quarterback Jake Dworak (Denmark, Wis. ) "We haven''t won a season opener in awhile now, and it would be nice to get over that hurdle."
The Pioneers return 10 starters on offense and seven starters on defense from a team that went 5-5 in 2009, but finished the season winning four of their last five games. Overall, the Pioneers are a very experienced team, and Lakeland head coach Kevin Doherty believes the outcome will come down to how the returning players match up.
"Looking at their film and knowing what both teams have coming back, I believe it will be a good game," said Doherty. "I don''t think that there is a big matchup problem either way, because we both have experienced guys on both sides of the ball. I believe that we just need to play hard and play Muskie football like we''ve been practicing and the outcome will take care of itself."
Lakeland is hoping for a strong non-conference showing after a 6-4 season in 2009, which ended in the NCAA III playoffs. The Muskies received the Northern Athletic Conference''s automatic postseason bid after capturing their fourth conference title in the last six years.
The Muskies have plenty of experience on offense, returning eight starters from a unit that averaged 26.5 points and 330 yards per game last season. Dworak (, Wis. ) enters his third season as the starter, and he''s coming off his best season when he completed 52 percent of his passes for 2,323 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Muskies will look to remain balanced on offense with the return of junior running back Jeremy Williams (Zion, Ill.) and senior Roberto Flores ( Milwaukee, Wis. ), an All-NAC first team honoree at wide receiver.
"We are ready for Saturday, we know it will set the tone for the rest of the season," said Dworak. "In the scrimmage (Friday at Elmhurst ) we came out slow and were sloppy on offense. Coach does not want that to happen again. We will look to get going early and get the season started on the right foot."
Defensively, the Muskies look to build on a solid 2009 as they return eight starters, including several key members in the secondary. With the likes of senior first team All-NAC cornerback Keith Woodson (Evanston, Ill.), fifth year senior Joey O''Brien (Cary, Ill.) and junior Tony Faller (Ootsburg, Wis.) at safety, and the addition of senior cornerback Isaiah Calhoun ( Pontiac, Mich. ), the Muskies look to be a force on defense.
"I''m well rested and excited to get into the game and make something happen," said Calhoun, who is returning this season from an ACL injury that sidelined him last fall. "I''m healthy and ready to help contribute to the team. We are excited to play in front of our home fans and against a fresh, new opponent."
"Carroll brings back a veteran team, and a solid offense that gained some momentum in winning their final three games," said defensive coordinator Colin Bruton. "The key player will be ( Lakeland linebacker) Will Baldwin in the middle, stopping the run and leading the front six. Carroll likes to run the ball and set up the pass off their run game. If we stop the run, we increase our chances at getting the win."
For Doherty, the key this weekend comes down to one thing - staying focused.
"We have to take care of our assignments first, taking care of our roles and following our rules on defense and offense," said Doherty. "We need to be mentally sharp and be able to make adjustments on the sideline and at halftime to things we may not have seen in the film. The guys need to stay focused and take it one play at a time."