There are those who worry about what the Lakeland University offense will look like next season after super talent Michael Whitley graduates. The Muskies quarterback has been unreal, setting new conference records each week, making many wonder if next season they will be reminiscing about the good ole days. That question was answered on Saturday afternoon, as freshman Johnathan Hagerty took the reins and threw for 232 yards and 6 touchdowns in the 57-31 victory over the Rockford Regents. That moved Lakeland to 8-2, their fifth straight season with above .500.
This was a game that the Muskies dominated from the start. After Rockford was forced to punt after just three plays on their first possession, Lakeland would find the end zone right away. Starting from their own 30, Dezmon Eddie gained 23 yards on the first play from scrimmage, and Larry Rivers followed by breaking free and racing 47 yards for the score to make it 7-0. That was Rivers second TD run of the season.
The Regents would mount an impressive drive on their next possession, moving from their own 16 but, on fourth and 14 from the Lakeland 34, Delayno Mack’s pass fell incomplete. It would take just five plays for the Muskies to go the other direction and reach the end zone.
After Johnathan Hagerty completed passes on the first two plays of the drive, Eddie ran for six yards to set up second and 4. Hagerty completed a first down pass to Allante Gardner, and then Eddie broke free, shaking off a tackle before finding the end zone to make it 15-0. That was his 17th touchdown of the season, and the fifth straight game that he reached the end zone.
On their next possession, the Muskies would score again. Starting from their own 30, Lakeland moved to the one yard line where they had second and goal. That is when Hagerty found Gardner for the one yard touchdown pass, the second TD throw of his career making it 23-0.
Rockford was forced to punt on their next possession, but Chris Bustamante blocked the punt and it was recovered at the Regents 16. Four plays later, Hagerty found Jody Harrison for a 13 yard touchdown to extend the lead to 30.
Undeterred, Rockford would go the other way and finally reach the end zone. The 12 play, 60 yard drive ended when Brandon Hausladen scored from two yards out to make it 30-6. Of the 12 plays in the drive, 10 were runs.
With 24 seconds left in the half, Lakeland would make it 37-6. The Muskies special teams blocked another punt, giving them the ball at the Regents 20. Five plays later, Hagerty found Peyton Petersen for a seven yard touchdown to extend the lead to 31. That was the first touchdown reception of the season for Petersen.
Coming out of the locker room, it looked like Lakeland would extend their lead to 38 but, on fourth and 15 at the Rockford 19, Hagerty’s pass was dropped and the ball was turned over on downs. The Regents responded by mounting an impressive drive. That included a 38 yard pass from Mack to Liam Joyce that put the ball at the Lakeland 29, and RU would score four plays later to make it 37-12.
The Muskies responded right away. The kickoff was returned by Petersen 43 yards to the Rockford 40. Nine plays later, Hagerty connected with Dezmen Morse for a 12 yard touchdown pass to make it 44-12.
It would become a 38 point lead on the next possession for Lakeland. Larry Rivers combined with Hagerty to lead the drive, as the running back carried the ball five times for 37 yards. Hagerty also completed five passes on the drive, including a one yard strike to Morse to make it 50-12.
The Regents showed a great deal of heart in the fourth quarter, battling back to make this game interesting. On their next possession, Rockford moved 57 yards in 6 plays before they would score on a 37 yard run from Hausladen to make it 50-18.
The Muskies responded right away, moving 59 yards in 11 plays before Hagerty found Jawon Turner for a two yard score. While the touchdown came through the air, it was the ground game that was the catalyst, as Rivers carried the ball five times for 48 yards and Michael Moreau had 3 carries for 15 yards.
Trailing 57-18, the Regents scored the final two touchdowns of the game. The first came on a 12 yard pass by Mack to Jon Kaifesh to make it 57-25. Mack would connect with Drake Barlow on a three yard touchdown on their next possession to make it 57-31, but the Regents would get no closer.
The Lakeland offense amassed over 550 yards of total offense and did not punt in the game. Johnathan Hagerty completed 29 of 38 passes in his first career start for 232 yards and 6 touchdowns. Larry Rivers gained 155 yards on the ground on just 13 carries, and Dezmon Eddie ran for 129 yards on 17 carries, his fourth straight game with at least 100 yards rushing. Eddie has ran for 796 yards in the last four games.
The Lakeland University Muskies finish as the NACC champions for the third straight season. They await tomorrow’s selection show to see who they will face in the first round of the Division-III playoffs.
By Robert Pannier