- Evening, Weekend & Online Programs
- ALUMNI RELATIONS
- GIVING TO LAKELAND
- ABOUT LAKELAND
MEQUON, Wis. - As members of the Lakeland football team posed with the Cheese Bowl Trophy Saturday for a post-game team picture, the traditional "Say cheese!" quickly turned into a chant:
"Cheese Bowl! Cheese Bowl! Cheese Bowl!"
The Muskies claimed the Cheese Bowl Trophy and control of first place in the Illini-Badger Football Conference by beating rival Concordia, Wis., for the first time in five years, a 17-14 victory that puts Lakeland in the IBFC driver's seat.
Lakeland is 4-0 in the IBFC, and can win the league title and clinch the program's first trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs by winning their final three games: home dates with Concordia, Ill., on Oct. 22 and Aurora on Oct. 29 and a trip to Greenville on Nov. 5.
The Muskies, now 5-2 overall, had to rally to get the job done Saturday, but after a tough first quarter, the Muskies' defense ruled the day, shutting Concordia's potent running game down.
Lakeland's defense limited Concordia to just 40 yards in the second half, tallied five sacks, held senior running back Immanuel Mills to a season-low 70 yards rushing (30 below his average) and produced the game's tying touchdown.
Trailing 14-7 early in the third quarter, Lakeland freshman linebacker Blaine Hornes knocked the ball loose from CUW quarterback Justin Lewis and returned the fumble 40 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
"I picked it up and ran as fast as I could to the end zone," Hornes said. "There is a tendency to just jump on it and let the offensive do something with it, but no one was in front of me, so I thought I might as well scoop and score.
"I was trying to give us the lift we needed to get back in the game. It ended up being a big play, but a lot of guys helped me get there to make it."
With just over four minutes left in the third, Hornes struck again, bursting through the line to block a Concordia punt that the Muskies recovered deep in Falcons' territory. A 25-yard field goal by freshman kicker Dan Lucchesi gave Lakeland its first lead, and proved to be all the Muskies' motivated defense would need.
"This is probably the biggest game of my career because of the rivalry and me just being a freshman and being able to step up like that," Hornes said.
His teammates were not surprised.
"Our freshmen have played like seniors this year - we could not have done this without them," said senior defensive lineman Nick Zeck. "All of our freshmen have been stepping up great."
For Lakeland, the win washes away five years of disappointment at the hands of Concordia, and sets the stage for the Muskies, the preseason IBFC favorite, to make program history.
"This means the world to us," Zeck said. "Winning the Cheese Bowl is something we've wanted since our freshman year, and we finally got it."
"I've been in this program for four years, and we've lost to (Concordia) every year," said senior defensive lineman David Benton, who with classmate Nick Hunter led Lakeland with 6.5 tackles each. "We have not had the Cheese Bowl Trophy here and it's great to get it back."
Throughout this past week, Lakeland's players saw small posters that said "Cheese Bowl = Falcon Time" hanging all over their locker room - the coaching staff's way of motivating this year's team to reverse a recent trend.
"It helped us a bit to keep it in our heads so we didn't lose site of this goal," said senior linebacker Ryan Van De Loo. "The last two years, the only team we've lost to in the conference is Concordia."
Lakeland head coach Jim Zebrowski said the Muskies had a team meeting Wednesday before practice where they watched the motivation speech scenes from popular sports movies like "Remember the Titans" and "Friday Night Lights."
"I thought there was a little tension for whatever reason," Zebrowski said. "We were not as tight as a family. I didn't know if we were buying into the 'Do what you can for everybody' philosophy."
The Muskies also "practiced" what it would be like to win Saturday's game and claim the Cheese Bowl Trophy this week by counting down the final seconds and acting out their celebration - practice which paid off Saturday.
"When you haven't done something in so long, I don't know if the guys realize what's at stake," Zebrowski said. "It does mean something to the people who have been here before. Sometimes you've got to see yourself doing something before you can actually do it."
The host Falcons (4-3, 3-1) scored twice in the opening quarter for a quick 14-0 lead to the delight of a big Homecoming crowd.
"Their offense is hard to read with their misdirection," Van De Loo said. "They were not pulling their guards at all, and that's what we were supposed to key on."
"We didn't really have to change anything, it's just that they were making the proper decisions and we were making poor decisions," Zebrowski said. "The field goal was key, because once we got the lead late, I think they started thinking 'Can we drive?' They just didn't want to throw it."
Lakeland's offense sealed the win, claiming two big first downs in the game's final possession. Senior quarterback Ryan Maiuri led Lakeland with 76 rushing yards on 14 attempts, while going 12 of 21 in the air for 125 yards and a touchdown to junior Eric Royal.
While Zebrowski was clearly thrilled with the victory, he said the season's final three games will dictate its place in Lakeland history.
"The Cheese Bowl obviously means a lot to our program," Zebrowski said. "If we play well the next three weeks, we'll look back and say this win got us over the hump. I hope this is a confidence game for two big reasons: our defense stopped them with 5:30 left and made them punt, and our offense ate up the clock, and that's outstanding."