The contest between the Aurora Spartans and the Lakeland Muskies was supposed to be an exciting affair, as the top two teams in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference entered the game undefeated in conference play. It looked like Aurora University was going to put themselves in prime position to earn the victory and take the lead in the conference when they took a three point lead with 54 seconds left in the game, but Michael Whitley led the Muskies on a dramatic drive, connecting with Dezmon Eddie for the score with two seconds left, as Lakeland University went on to win 47-38.
It looked like the Lakeland University Muskies were going to turn this into a blow out early as their offense seemed unstoppable in the first quarter. On their first possession of the game, the Muskies moved from their own 17 to the Aurora one yard line where they had first and goal. However, the Spartans would not budge and were able to stop Lakeland from getting that one yard, turning the ball over on downs.
The Spartans would be forced to punt, giving the Muskies the ball at their own 37. Five plays later they would be on top. After Larry Rivers carried the ball twice for a total of six yards, Michael Whitley hit Jody Harrison for 24 yards before completing a pass to Harrison for 8 more. On the next play, the Lakeland QB found Dezmon Eddie for a 25 yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
Aurora responded by quickly moving the ball to the Lakeland 31. After two plays yielded one yard, a low snap to quarterback Gavin Zimmerman led to a fumble, and gave the Muskies back the ball. On the second play of the drive for Lakeland, Whitley hit Jamal Hawkins-Sconiers for 39 yards and a first down to the Aurora 25. From there, Eddie took over, gaining 10 yards on the next play, then racing for 15 and the touchdown to put the Muskies up by 14.
On the next possession for LU, they would move to the Aurora 14 where it first and 10. It looked like this game was going to get out of hand, but the Spartans defense came up huge, holding Lakeland to seven yards through the first three plays, setting up a fourth and 3. Whitley went back to pass looking for Dezmen Morse, but the play was broken up, turning the ball over to Aurora.
Connor Olson rushed for three yards on the first play, then broke up the middle and outran the LU defense on his way to a 90 yard touchdown. That made it 14-7 and got the Spartans right back into the game.
The Muskies responded on their next possession. Whitley led a methodical drive that took 4:30 off the clock. The 9 play, 80 yard drive started when Whitley hit Harrison for 28 yards to the 48. Twice Lakeland was faced with third and long, but both times the Lakeland quarterback came up big. The first came on third and 10 at his own 48 when he kept the ball and stiff armed a defender on his way to a 14 yard gain. The second came on third and 8 at the 36 of Aurora, when he hit Morse for 23 yards. On second and goal at the three, Whitley hit Morse again, this time for the touchdown to make it 21-7.
The Spartans were able to do a little responding of their own, moving 65 yards in 7 plays before they would score. Olson carried the ball on the first two plays, but the big play of the possession came when Emilio Starks raced 37 yards for a first down to the Lakeland 14. Two plays later, Aurora dialed up a little razzle dazzle, as Olson used the halfback option to find Chris Villafuerte for a seven yard touchdown to make it a one score game.
Once again, the Muskies mounted an impressive drive, moving to the Aurora six. On third and one, the Spartans were able to break up a pass to Morse, then stuffed an Eddie run for no gain on fourth down, the third time they had forced a turnover on downs inside their own 10 yard line.
On the second possession of the half for Aurora, they would tie the score. The Spartans opted to use Tyran Bailey, and the back had a monster half. After Olson carried the ball for 14 yards on the first two carries of the drive, Bailey move the ball 16 more yards on the next two plays. On first and 10 at the Lakeland 34, the back bowled his way outside and then raced for the end zone to make it 21-21.
The Muskies would retake the lead right away. Twice the Spartans defense forced a third and long, but it was Whitley who got his team out of trouble each time. The first time was on a third and 10 play at their own 27, when Whitley kept the ball and moved outside before finding a lane and running for 14 yards and the first down. On third and 8 at the Aurora 47, Whitley found a streaking Allante Gardner who scored to make it 28-21.
With a little under three minutes left in the third quarter, Aurora would tie the score again. After a 29 yard punt gave the Spartans the ball at their own 32, it looked like they would be stopped and forced to punt when it was third and 7. However, Zimmerman pulled out a little magic of his own, connecting with Sean Mullen for 39 yards to the Lakeland 26. On the next play, the two hooked up again, this time for a touchdown to tie the game at 28.
At the 6:57 mark of the fourth quarter, Zac Mirabelli hit a 24 yard field goal to put the Spartans on top for the first time in the contest, but Eddie would give his team the lead right back. Starting from their own 36 the Muskies moved to the Aurora 21 in six plays. On the seventh play of the drive, Eddie moved to his right on a sweep. It looked like he would be knocked out of bounds at the 13, but the running back somehow managed to tight rope down the sideline while staying in bounds and avoiding three tacklers for the score. That put the Muskies back on top 35-31.
Aurora came right back to take the lead. There was 4:43 left in the game when the drive began, and Zimmerman delivered a series of huge plays. The first came on third and 7 at his own 33 when it looked like he would be sacked. However, he managed to avoid containment, and then ran 17 yards for a first down. Two plays later, AU was faced with a third and 4, when Zimmerman handed the ball to Bailey, who went to his left and gained six yards of the first down. With it second and 10 at the LU 28, Zimmerman connected with AJ Hunter down the middle. The receiver made a great sliding catch for the touchdown to put his team back on top with 54 seconds left in the game.
The ensuing kickoff went through the end zone, putting Whitley and the Lakeland offense 75 yards from the end zone with 54 seconds left. The first two plays lost three yards setting up third and 13, but Whitley found Eddie over the middle for 18 yards and a first down. On second at 10, Whitley found Morse over the middle for 15 yards and another first down. On the next play, the Lakeland QB found Harrison coming across the middle and completed a perfect strike to the receiver. Harrison alertly kept running hard, racing about 20 yards to the sideline where he was able to get out of bounds and stop the clock after the 18 yard pick up. On the next play, Whitley hit Eddie, who broke three tackles before he was finally brought down at the five with six seconds left. The Muskies called their last time out and looked for the touchdown. Whitley snapped the ball, then found Eddie across the back of the end zone for the touchdown. That made it 41-38.
On the kickoff, the Spartans lateraled the ball looking to retake the lead. They continually moved backwards until they finally fumbled. A Lakeland player recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown and the Muskies pulled off the dramatic 47-38 victory.
Michael Whitley threw for 452 yards and 4 touchdowns, while also rushing for 84 yards. Dezmon Eddie led the team with 124 yards rushing and had 108 yards receiving. He had two touchdown receptions and two touchdown rushes. Allante Gardner had 128 yards receiving and a score. Donte Rowell and Jerry Stokes led the Muskies defense with 8 tackles each.
The Spartans offense was led by Connor Olson who rushed for 159 yards and a TD. Tyran Bailey had 114 yards rushing and a touchdown. Gavin Zimmerman threw for 140 yards and 2 TDs, and had 23 yards rushing.
Next weekend, the Lakeland University Muskies will welcome Concordia University-Chicago to Taylor Field. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
By Robert Pannier