The Lakeland Muskies took to the field Saturday night to open up the 2017 season. It was a festive occasion, as the team not only was playing in their newly remodeled stadium, but also was looking to build off of last year’s success which saw the team had to the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. Thanks to quarterback Michael Whitley, Lakeland got the start that they were looking for, as the senior through for nearly 500 yards and accounted for six total touchdowns in the 43-29 victory over Carroll University.
The renovations to Taylor Field looked absolutely unbelievable, and offered the Muskies the opportunity to play their first home night game in school history. This really had Lakeland University fired up, as they jumped out to a 36-7 halftime lead.
The Pioneers received the opening kickoff and promptly moved down the field courtesy of a 62-yard run by JJ Keels that put the ball at the Muskies 10-yard line. However, the drive stalled there, forcing a field goal that was missed and putting the ball in the hands of Michael Whitley for the first time this season.
The senior delivered right away. His first pass was completed to Allante Gardner for 32-yards and into Pioneer territory. Whitley then methodically moved the team down the field, rushing for 7-yards before completing three straight passes. With the ball on the 14 yard line, Whitley broke free of the line and went for the touchdown to stake his team to an 8-0 lead.
The Pioneers responded right away to pull within one. Carroll looked like their drive was going to stall right away when they were faced with a third and 11, but a penalty move them up 5 yards before Colton Bahling found Brandon Ehrke for a 9-yard pass and the first down. Bahling then kept the ball and raced 57 yards for the touchdown to make the score 8-7.
From there, the Muskies took complete control of the game. They were forced to punt on the next possession, but with 4:01 left in the first quarter, Whitley would hit Dezmen Morse for an 87-yard touchdown strike that extended the lead back to eight.
Into the second quarter the game would go, where Lakeland would put up 21 unanswered points. The heartbreaker came when Carroll was forced to punt and the ball was downed at the 1 yard line of the Lakeland Muskies. This looked like it was going to give the Pioneers at least some exceptional field position if not create some form of turnover. However, Whitley made a perfect pass to Jamal Hawkins-Sconiers for a school record 99-yard touchdown pass that extended the lead to 15.
Things seemed to snowball for the Pioneers from that point. On the next possession for Lakeland, Whitley completed three passes to move the ball down to the 3-yard line of Carroll. From there, he kept the ball himself and burst into the end zone with the two point attempt being converted to make it 30-7.
After the Muskies defense was able to force a punt, once again the Lakeland offense would put together an impressive drive, starting from their own 3 yard line. The Lakeland quarterback completed five of six passes on the drive, including a 24 yarder to Jody Harrison for the touchdown to make it 36-7. That would be the score at half.
Neither team was able to generate much offense in the third quarter, but in the fourth the Pioneers would rally to put themselves in a position to get back into this game. With about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Drake Pusateri rushed for 9 yards and the score to make it 36-15.
Lakeland responded with a touchdown drive, capped off by a 5 yard touchdown reception by Hawkins-Sconiers. This was another impressive long drive that began at the Muskies 9 yard line and took 4:13 off of the clock.
The Pioneers did a little responding of their own, as they capped off a three play drive with a 55 yard touchdown strike from Bahling to Ehrke, who was left all alone down the left sideline for the score.
Carroll would pull to within two touchdowns when the Pioneers quarterback moved his team 62-yards in 2:49 seconds, throwing to Parker Zitzke for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 43-29. That left just eight seconds left on the clock and Carroll was unable to retrieve the onside kick, ending the game.
The Lakeland Muskies put up 647-yards of total offense, including putting together three drives of at least 87-yards. The offense was led by Michael Whitley who was 27-46 passing for 473-yards and 4-TDs. He also rushed 10 times for 66 yards and two more scores. Eldrada Meeks carried the ball 16 times for 89 yards. Jamal Hawkins-Sconiers was the biggest recipient of Whitley’s passes, catching three for 141-yards and 2-touchdowns. Dezmen Morse made 6 grabs for 122 yards and a score, and Jody Harrison had 8-catches for 95 yards and a TD.
On defense, Diante Moses led the Lakeland defense with 11 tackles and had 0.5 sacks. Omar Smothers had 2-nterceptions, and Mario Rafe had 1.5 sacks to go along with six tackles.
The Carroll offense was led by JJ Keels, who rushed 15 times for hundred and 49 yards.
The Lakeland Muskies (1-0) head to Holland, MI next Saturday to take on Hope College. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30.
Read Feature on Head Coach Colin Bruton
By Robert Pannier