Cloaked in the shadows of one of the best offenses in all of Division-III football, the Lakeland University defense isn’t often mentioned in most stories about the team. Because of how prolific Michael Whitley and his high-powered offense have been, this defense has lived in relative anonymity for much of the season. However, Saturday afternoon, it was Diante Moses and his brothers on defense that led the Muskies to a huge conference victory over the Benedictine Eagles, 57-20, moving Lakeland to 4-2 on the season, including 2-0 in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference.
The first quarter set the stage for what looked like an exciting day of football. Benedictine received the opening kickoff, but was forced to punt after just three plays. Grant Klaver went back to receive the snap, but his punt was blocked by Sam Anderson. Diante Moses recovered in the end zone for the touchdown and the Muskies were quickly up 7-0.
The special-teams unit for Benedictine would set their offense up later in the quarter. After a bobbled snap gave the Eagles the ball at the Lakeland 26, quarterback Ryan Sample found Brandon Moore for 26 yards and a touchdown. The two-point conversion was good and Benedictine led by one.
The Lakeland University Muskies responded right away, moving 80-yards in 12-plays to retake the lead. Three times in the drive Lakeland was faced with the third down, converting in each case. With third and one at the Benedictine 12, the ball was handed off to Dezmon Eddie, who barreled his way into the end zone to put the Muskies on top 15-8.
The Muskies extended their lead to 13 early in the second quarter. After taking the ball at their own eight, Eldrada Meeks had rushes of 14- and 8-yards bookending four plays that saw Whitley complete two passes as well, each for 11-yards. The second quarter began with it second and 2 at the Benedictine 48. After the Lakeland quarterback rushed for four yards, Meeks gained 11 setting up a first and 10 at the 33. That is when Whitley went back to pass and found Jody Harrison for the touchdown to make it 21-8.
On the next possession for the Eagles, Moses intercepted a Sample pass and returned it to the Benedictine two. Two plays later, Whitley kept the ball and burst into the end zone for the touchdown to extend the lead to 21.
Sample would make up for his miscue on the very next possession. He carried the ball four times and completed 4 of 6 passes, the biggest of which was a 54-yard pass to Matt Fleming for a touchdown to make it 29-14. That would be the score heading into the half.
Lakeland received the kickoff to start the second half, and it looked like Benedictine would get a chance to get right back into this contest when Harrison fumbled after making a 13-yard reception. Danny Drummond knocked the ball loose and Mark Hammond recovered at the Lakeland 41. The Eagles were forced to punt and almost got the ball back again when Allante Gardner fumbled the return, but he was able to recover.
Neither team was able to put points on the board until Whitley found Jamal Hawkins-Sconiers for a 24-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 36-14. That capped off a 6-play 78-yard drive, which saw Whitley complete three passes to Gardner to start the possession. After Eddie broke off a 26-yard run, Whitley completed two more passes, with the final one going to Hawkins-Sconiers for the score.
On the next possession for the Eagles, it would be the Lakeland defense that would come up big again. On second and 3 at the Benedictine 44, Marcus Williams sacked Sample, forcing a fumble. Washington Vivanco recovered the ball, putting the rock back in Whitley’s hands. Five plays later, the Muskies would be back in the end zone, as Meeks scored from 23-yards out to make it 43-14.
Benedictine would turn the ball over on their next possession, when Moses stripped the ball from Fleming. Mason Ross recovered at the Lakeland 16. It looked like nothing was going the Eagles way but, on the next play, Frank Letzia made a great play to intercept a Whitley pass and returned it for a touchdown to make it 43-21.
BU went for the onside kick but Kameron Polk recovered. That gave Whitley a short field and he seemed possessed after the interception. On the third play of the drive he hit Harrison for 19-yards. On the next play, he found Gardner for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 50-21.
The Muskies added one more touchdown on their final possession of the game. The team rolled off an impressive 13-play, 79-yard drive that took 5:44 off the clock. Larry Rivers capped off the drive with a 12-yard rushing touchdown to make it 57-21.
The Lakeland University defense allowed 82-yards rushing and 316 total yards of offense. The defense recorded seven total sacks and three turnovers. Diante Moses made 9-tackles, had a sack, a forced fumble and an interception. He also scored a touchdown. McNemon Vincent recorded 3-sacks and also had a forced fumble. Ross Mason made both fumble recoveries.
Michael Whitley had another Superman like performance, passing for 323-yards and 3-touchdowns. Eldrada Meeks rushed for 132 yards on just 11-carries and had a score. Allante Gardner made 10-catches for 101-yards and a TD.
For Benedictine, Ryan Sample passed for 228-yards and 2-scores. Matt Fleming had 6-catches for 104-yards and a touchdown. Tyreese Fontanez les the team with 12-tackles.
The Lakeland University Muskies (4-2) will head to Milwaukee next weekend to take on the Wisconsin Lutheran College Warriors (2-4). Kickoff is at 1 PM.
By Robert Pannier