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At the end of Saturday's final football game for the 2004 season, Lakeland College had three 100-yard rushers, a 100-yard receiver and a conference championship.
The Muskies poured 598 total yards of offense on Greenville in a 46-27 win that secured a share of the Illini-Badger Conference title.
Lakeland (7-3) shares the IBC crown with Aurora (a 42-10 winner over MacMurray) and Concordia, Wis. (a 7-3 winner over Eureka) who all finish 6-1 in league play. Aurora wins the tiebreaker and the IBC's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
It's the first conference title for Lakeland since the Muskies won back-to-back IBC crowns in 1996 and 1997.
"I think when you win a championship, be it outright or shared, at a school that hasn't won one for seven years, that's a step forward," said second-year head coach Jim Zebrowski. "This program was stuck in the middle of the road.
"I'm really happy for the school and the community we have here. When you're at a school like Lakeland it's a community, and now our community can say 'We're conference champs.'"
"We've done something that hasn't been done in seven years," said senior linebacker Sam Scharinger. "We're leaving our mark."
Lakeland had 437 of its 598 yards on the ground as sophomore running back Aaron Barrie led the rushing attack with 114 yards on 13 carries, junior quarterback Ryan Maiuri had 106 yards on 17 carries and sophomore running back Marcus Denham had 104 yards on 18 carries and a pair of rushing touchdowns.
In a fitting end, senior receiver Courtney Gatlin had his biggest day of the season, hauling in 115 yards on five catches. He scored the first two TDs of the game (40- and 14-yard pass plays) to get the Muskies off to a 13-0 first-quarter lead.
"I think they were giving it to us," Maiuri said of the team's early success through the air. "They were playing cover 4 and coming hard and playing the run. Pass action was open over the top."
Defensively, Lakeland had five sacks, three from junior lineman Nick Zeck, and senior lineman Rick Bowerman returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown.
Throw in senior tight end Jed Manders' 16-yard TD catch and Lakeland's seniors scored four of the Muskies' seven TDs in their final game. Scharinger said the strides the program has made in just two seasons make the outgoing class feel good."The whole attitude of the team, Coach Zebrowski and Coach (Chris) Krich, everyone believes in them," Scharinger said. "And when you believe in something, things get accomplished."
And while there was plenty of smiles and celebrating Saturday at Taylor Field, the anticipation of the 2005 season - which will feature the return of 18 starters - is already underway.
"Today feels good, but our goal was to win the conference outright and go to the playoffs," said Maiuri, who finished with 267 total yards Saturday. "It stings from that point. I'm glad our seniors get a championship ring. I'm happy with that, but we're not satisfied.
"We just keep building. Last year we were 8-2 and fell one game short. This year we were 7-3 and fell one game short. It gives us another step to build on."
Zebrowski said the word of the day was excitement, both for what's been accomplished and for what's yet to conquer."The kids believe now," Zebrowski said. "You want to tell them they're doing the right things with the offseason workouts and lifting. Now we can say "See, this is the reward." Our kids would run through a brick wall for us, and that's what I love about them. And that's because they know we as coaches would do the same for them.
"The kids are learning to play with the playoff-caliber teams. We're not satisfied, but today there's a lot of gratification."