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Someday, the members of the 2008 Lakeland College football team will take pride in the fact that they won the program's first Northern Athletics Conference game.
But Saturday afternoon, just winning was feeling just fine.
After rolling to a 33-6 halftime edge, the Muskies survived a wild third quarter and 22 unanswered second-half points from visiting Rockford to post a 33-28 win.
It gave Lakeland (1-3) a win in the school's NAC opener, a win for Homecoming, but most important, the Muskies won for the first time this season.
"I told my staff the hardest win to get is that first win," said head coach Kevin Doherty. "A couple big plays made this game closer than it needed to be. We made some uncharacteristic mistakes. We were right there to make the play on a couple defensive plays and just made a bad break on the ball or the quarterback slipped out of our grasp and got a couple of extra yards."
Trailing 33-13, Rockford senior defensive back Brandon Standley picked off a Jake Dworak pass and returned it 39 yards to cut Lakeland's lead to 33-20. The Regents (0-4) cut it to 33-22 when Lakeland punter Billy Hughes had a snap sail over his head and he kicked it through the end zone for a safety.
It was a tale of two halves, and Lakeland stepped up when it had to. Sophomore Keith Woodson snagged an onside kick by Rockford with 3:35 to play after the Regents scored their last touchdown. Lakeland freshman Tony Faller had the second of his two interceptions with 20 seconds left to seal the victory.
The Muskies had 315 total yards and 17 first downs, but 94 and five in the second half. Rockford had 286 total yards, 205 in the second half along with 13 of their 19 first downs. Lakeland was in the red zone three times in the second half and didn't score, including a lost fumble by Jeremy Williams at the Rockford 3-yard line that the Regents recovered.
"It started getting intense every once in awhile, but I think we always felt like we were going to pull through," said senior wide receiver Matt Pawlyk, who finished with five catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. "We were making too many mistakes and not finishing.
"I don't think they were doing anything different, we just weren't executing our plays. We just let a lot of plays get away from us that we should have scored on."
Doherty said the inability to finish drives in the second half left the door open for Rockford.
"We got into position to put them away and we didn't," Doherty said. "We got called out of bounds or we had a turnover or a bad throw. We said in the second half let's keep running what we're running, especially in our run game. It just came down to making plays.
"They couldn't stop us in the first half; we were throwing the ball, we were running the ball. We just slowed down a little bit. We're starting seven freshmen and sophomores on offense, so you have to take the good and the bad."
Lakeland's run game had its best day of the season as the Muskies rolled up 154 yards on the ground, led by sophomore running back Ben Lombardi, who finished with 105 yards on 12 carries for a gaudy eight yards per carry and a TD.
"The line really came on and make some good blocks and the cutback was there on the inside zone," Lombardi said. "I think I kept my eyes open more and saw more. The offensive line did a really good job."
Lakeland's defense had nine tackles for loss, five sacks and three interceptions. Senior defensive back Justin Medard finished with 12 tackles, two for loss, and an interception.
The Muskies will try to remain unbeaten in NAC play next Saturday with a game at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee at 1 p.m.