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The Lakeland College football team was once again close in a non-conference game but again just missed a win in a 31-24 loss to Kalamazoo (Mich.) College Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field.
The Muskies lost by a touchdown for a second straight game to open the season, falling to 0-2 and losing a game that was part of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association-Northern Athletics Conference (MIAA-NAC) Challenge. Kalamazoo meanwhile won a close game for the third straight week, improving to 3-0 this year with its three wins coming by a total of 10 points.
Lakeland showed fight, coming back from a 31-14 fourth quarter deficit, getting within a touchdown and having two chances to tie the game in the last 3:03. Both drives ended in interceptions, though, including a final desperation pass on fourth down with 58 seconds left to clinch the win for the Hornets.
The Muskies committed a total of four turnovers, key in denying Lakeland from chances to score. While none of the scores led directly to points, three of them played a big role in stopping drives, including a pair which took place in Kalamazoo territory.
Lakeland got off to a fast start, going 65 yards in five plays on its opening drive. Quarterback Dylan Van Straten (Jr.-Shiocton, Wis.) hit Norman Grinstead (Fr.-Taylor, Mich.) for 36 yards on the game's first play, and Van Straten found Chris Jaskulski (Jr.-Greenfield, Wis.) on a 14-yard quick slant for a touchdown.
Evan Dieringer (Sr.-Germantown, Wis.) then intercepted Kalamazoo quarterback Aaron McGuire at the Lakeland 42 yard line to thwart a drive, but the Muskies fumbled two plays later just past midfield after running back Kendrick Burks (So.-Pontiac, Mich.) had gained a first down and was fighting for extra yardage.
Lakeland gave two points back when a punt snap went over the head of punter William Yelverton (Fr.-Oconomowoc, Wis.) and through the end zone for a safety. The Hornets would take the lead in the second quarter then as Dimeko Price scored on a four-yard run, but the Muskies came right back, going 63 yards in five plays. Van Straten rushed for 26 yards on the drive and a pair of personal foul penalties on Kalamazoo led to Burks scoring on a 13-yard scamper to make it 14-9.
Lakeland's offense bogged down over the next quarter and a half, though, and Kalamazoo took advantage, scoring 22 straight points to seize control. The Hornets took the lead just 56 seconds after Burks' touchdown as McGuire kept the ball on an option and ran 64 yards for a score.
Kalamazoo added a pair of short touchdown runs by Price in the third quarter, taking advantage of a short field both times to take a 31-14 lead. The Muskies awakened late in the third, though, as Cody Lemke (Jr.-Kewaskum, Wis.) intercepted McGuire with 47 seconds left in the period to give his team good field position at the Hornets' 35.
Lakeland needed nine plays and took advantage of another personal foul penalty on Kalamazoo, finally scoring on a two-yard run by Van Straten. The Muskies forced a punt and got the ball back, getting as far as the Hornets' 18 before settling for a 38-yard field goal by Yelverton to pull within a touchdown.
The defense got a quick stop, giving Lakeland the ball back at midfield with 3:03 left, but Van Straten was intercepted on the first play as Jaskulski was held up on a route and Jake Gallimore made the interception. After the Hornets went three-and-out quickly the Muskies had one final chance, but Van Straten was sacked on a second down play and was intercepted on fourth-and-16 two plays later on a final desperation throw.
Van Straten led Lakeland in rushing with 70 yards and completed 11 of 29 passes for 173 yards. Burks rushed 15 times for 35 yards and Jaskulski caught six passes for 69 yards. The Muskies were outgained 367-272 for the game, with both teams finishing with 17 first downs.
Bruce Romagnoli (Sr.-Iron Mountain, Mich.) finished with 14 tackles to lead the Lakeland defense. Yaphay Harvey (So.-Milwaukee, Wis.) added nine tackles from the secondary and Tyler Hattamer (Jr.-Gwinn, Mich.) made five tackles, including 2 1/2 tackles for loss.
McGuire completed 13 of 28 passes for 172 yards for Kalamazoo and also led his team in rushing with 115 yards on 17 rushes. Price added 82 yards rushing as well as 55 yards receiving. Alan Mencer and Connor Rzeznik led the Hornet defense, both finishing with 3 1/2 tackles for loss, including two sacks by Mencer.
The Muskies head on the road next weekend, facing Carthage College at 7 p.m. in Kenosha in another non-conference match, the final before beginning NAC play the next week on the road at Wisconsin Lutheran College.