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Defensively, Lakeland (1-1) limited Carthage All-American tailback Dante Washington to 92 yards rushing on 26 carries and kept him out of the end zone.
But Carthage took advantage of Lakeland miscues to remain unbeaten two weeks into the season.
With Lakeland leading 14-6 midway through the third quarter, Carthage blocked and recovered a Casey Kedrowski (Plover) punt in Lakeland territory. Five plays later Carthage sophomore quarterback Michael Sharp (who played the second half for injured senior starting QB Ferni Garza) scored on a 1-yard keeper.
But Lakeland’s Ryan Van De Loo (Sheboygan Falls) swatted away a 2-point conversion pass to keep Lakeland in the lead, 14-12.
Lakeland blocked a Carthage field goal attempt with just over a minute to play in the third quarter, but the Muskies fumbled an attempted run back and Carthage recovered. The Redmen cashed in, scoring on a 1-yard run by senior Luke Thompson, and led by the 18-14 final score after Lakeland’s David Benton (Ashtabula, Ohio) picked off a 2-point conversion pass.
“We gave a great effort, we just didn’t make enough plays to win the game,” Lakeland head coach Jim Zebrowski said. “That was a hard fought, hard played football game. We had opportunities in the first half to take a 30-point lead. When you let a team like that hang around it’s going to come down to a mistake or two.”
After a solid start, Zebrowski said the Muskies’ offense struggled to maintain rhythm when Lakeland receivers and junior quarterback Ryan Maiuri (Sterling Heights, Mich.) had problems connecting.
“It’s like a batting slump – when one bad thing happened the next bad thing happened,” Zebrowski said. “And what’s tough about a game like that is we couldn’t do anything to stop it. We couldn’t get momentum back.”
Senior linebacker Sam Scharinger (Howards Grove) led the defense with 21 tackles, including 13 unassisted, while senior Jacob Vigliante (El Paso, Tex.) added 12. Twice Lakeland picked off Carthage passes when the Redmen were driving deep in Lakeland territory, including picks from freshman Marcus Ruskin (Zion, Ill.) and senior Mark Edmond (Lansing, Mich.)
“Our defense kept us in the game all day,” Zebrowski said. “That’s supposed to be an All-American running back, and he looked slow. Our defense played well enough to win 95 percent of the games we’ll play. You’ve got to make some plays on offense to win.”
Lakeland opened the scoring at 6:31 in the first quarter when senior receiver Courtney Gatlin (St. Louis) slipped behind the defense on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Maiuri.
Carthage cut the lead to 7-6 when Brandon Fox recovered a fumble by Lakeland’s Marcus Denham (Zion, Ill.) in the end zone. Benton blocked the extra-point kick.
But Denham quickly stretched the Lakeland lead to 14-6, running the ensuing kickoff back 93 yards. Denham finished with just 18 rushing yards on eight attempts, as the Muskies, after a 545-yard total effort in week one, had just 171 yards on Saturday.
Maiuri was 10 for 35 with 123 yards. Gatlin had three catches for 60 yards, while Luke Dobson (Ishpeming, Mich.) added 32 yards on four catches.
Lakeland returns to action Saturday at 6 p.m. with a tough non-conference road game at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Muskies return home Sept. 25 in their Illini-Badger Conference opener against Benedictine at 1:30 p.m.