Football Crushes Aurora to Clinch First Ever Playoff Spot
Athletics - posted on 10/29/2005
Lakeland has been playing football since 1934, but the program has never made a postseason playoff appearance.
That's all about to change.
The Muskies clinched the first playoff berth in school history in convincing fashion Saturday, crushing Aurora University 58-0 on Senior Day at Taylor Memorial Field.
With the win, Lakeland clinches the Illini-Badger Football Conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Division III football playoffs, plus the Muskies (7-2 overall, 6-0 IBFC) clinch at least a share of their second straight IBFC championship.
"If you believe in something and work hard at it, you can accomplish it," third-year Lakeland head coach Jim Zebrowski said.
Aurora was last year's IBFC representative in the playoffs after winning a tiebreaker over co-IBFC champs Lakeland and Concordia (Wis.).
Lakeland needed a win Saturday to avoid a repeat of that scenario this year, and faced an Aurora squad that was ranked atop several IBFC team categories. The Muskies ended the suspense early, dominating both lines of scrimmage and outgaining the Spartans (4-4, 4-2) by a lopsided 353-27 in the first half.
"There are a couple of us who have been here for five years, and it feels great," senior defensive lineman Nick Zeck said of the playoff bid. "This is the best the team has been playing in the years that I've been here."
Senior quarterback Ryan Maiuri led an offense that gained 506 yards, and he did plenty of his own damage by throwing for 185 yards and two touchdowns and running for 102 yards and two more scores. It was the third time this year he has both passed and rushed for over a 100 yards.
"(Earning the playoff berth) is not a surprise to me at all because we worked so hard for this and it is what we expected to do," Maiuri said. "When the season started we said we want to go to the playoffs. That's what our expectations were and we worked hard to do it."
Maiuri hooked up with junior MacArthur White for both touchdowns on passes of 37 and 60 yards. White finished the game with four receptions for 124 yards.
On the other side of the ball, the defense thoroughly frustrated Aurora, holding a Spartan team that was averaging 316 yards per game to only 116 yards total yards, 35 of which were gained on the final drive of the game.
Senior defensive end David Benton, among the nation's leaders in sacks per game, recorded his 11th and 12th sacks of the season despite missing two games with a shoulder injury early in the season.
Freshman linebacker Brent Miller intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown in the third quarter.
"We have 11 people going for the ball on every play," Benton said. "We have a lot of freshman playing, but we told them that if you're playing, you're not freshmen anymore."
Lakeland's average starting field position in the game was their own 43 yard line, and the Muskies scored on all but two drives in the first half.
Lakeland can clinch the IBFC crown outright with a win next week at Greenville, Ill. Lakeland will learn its first-round playoff opponent on Nov. 13 when the complete Division III playoff field is announced.
"We have to finish the job and beat Greenville," said Benton. "We don't want to share the conference with nobody."
It would be Lakeland's first outright conference championship since 1997 and first under Zebrowski.
"As a head coach you get all the accolades," Zebrowski said. "But I know I couldn't have done this without my assistants, especially offensive coordinator Paul Kinsella and defensive coordinator Chris Krich."
Share This Story Help
Lakeland offers links to several popular social bookmarking services. These links help you share stories with other people or create bookmarks for future reference. The services are free, but they require a personal account. Click for more information on social bookmarking
<< Return to News