NACC Playoff Semifinals Matchup: Benedictine vs. Lakeland
The Benedictine University Eagles take on the Lakeland University Muskies on Saturday in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference (NACC) football semifinals. Benedictine enters the contest at 2-1, finishing second in the South Division. Lakeland ran the table, winning all three of their contests to win the North Division.
How Benedictine Got Here
Benedictine began the season with a dominating defensive effort against Concordia-Chicago, beating the Cougars, 28-0. The defense allowed just 241 total yards to Concordia. Quarterback Tyler Jarnagin threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. Receiver Alex Lopez made six catches for 137 yards and two scores and the defense was led by Christopher Williams with 12 tackles.
The Eagles trailed the Red Devils 21-10 at the end of the first half in their second contest of the season. However, the team rallied behind Jarnagins and running back Darries Rainey to outscore Eureka 28-7 in the second half on their way to a 38-28 victory. Jarnagins threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns and Rainey gained 84 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Lopez had another huge day, making eight catches for 134 yards and two scores. Calin Garau made seven catches for 94 yards and a score. Denzel Simmon led the team with 12 tackles and a forced fumble.
Benedictine held a 30-21 lead over Aurora with 7:43 left in last Saturday’s contest, but the Spartans rallied for 15 straight points to defeat the Eagles, 36-30. Jarnagin had another huge day, throwing for 317 yards and three touchdowns. Lopez made 10 catches for 122 yards and a score.
How Lakeland Got Here
Lakeland opened the season with a hard-fought 19-10 victory over Concordia-Wisconsin. The Muskies trailed 10-6 but quarterback Charl’Tez Nunnery gave his team to lead, scoring on a 6-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left in the half. The defense was outstanding, holding Concordia to 243 yards of offense, including -13 yards rushing. McNemon Vincent had four sacks in the game.
In Week 2, Lakeland was tied with Rockford 8:56 into the second quarter, but scored 28 unanswered points on their way to a 35-7 victory. Nunnery threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 98 and an additional score in the victory. Running back Larry Rivers rushed for 76 yards, becoming the all-time leading rusher at Lakeland. Shazon Crutcher made 14 tackles.
Last Saturday, Lakeland jumped out to a 34-0 lead over Wisconsin Lutheran College on their way to a 62-14 victory. Nunnery threw four touchdowns of at least 45 yards, finishing with 336 yards passing and 114 yards rushing. Agustin Diaz had two sacks, six tackles, and two pass breakups in the game.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 2-1 (2nd in South Division)
Home Record: 1-1
Away Record: 1-0
Points Per Game: 32.0
Yards Per Game: 398.3
Rushing Yards Per Game: 89.0
Passing Yards Per Game: 309.3
Third Down Conversions: 45.5% (20-44)
Red Zone Touchdowns: 10-12 (83.3%)
Time of Possession: 33:13
Points Allowed Per Game: 21.3
Yards Allowed Per Game: 358.3
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 162.0
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: 196.3
Turnovers: 6 (2 Fumble Recoveries, 4 Interception)
Kick Return Average: 13.9
Punt Return Average: 7.0
Point After Attempts: 12-13 (92.3%)
Field Goal Attempts: 2-2 (100%)
Punting Averaging: 34.3
Record: 3-0 (1st in North Division)
Home Record: 1-0
Away Record: 2-0
Points Per Game: 38.7
Yards Per Game: 475.0
Rushing Yards Per Game: 228.3
Passing Yards Per Game: 246.7
Third Down Conversions: 44.0% (21-48)
Red Zone Touchdowns: 7-12 (58.0%)
Time of Possession: 28:07
Points Allowed Per Game: 10.3
Yards Allowed Per Game: 240.0
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 42.7
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: 197.3
Turnovers: 8 (3 Fumble Recoveries, 5 Interception)
Kick Return Average: 13.6
Punt Return Average: 8.0
Point After Attempts: 14-17 (82.4%)
Field Goal Attempts: 0-0 (0.0%)
Punting Averaging: 28.3
Benedictine on Offense
Tyler Jarnagin is the leader of this Eagles offense. He has completed 61.5% of his passes for 928 yards and nine scores against just two interceptions. His leading target this season has been Alex Lopez, who leads the conference and receptions (24), receiving yards (393), and is tied in touchdown receptions with five. Lopez is not a one-man band, however. Deand Holliday has 17 receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns and Calin Gurau has 14 catches for 163 yards and a score.
The ground game is led by the duo of Darries Rainey and Gregory Hoard. Rainey has 30 carries for 103 yards and four touchdowns. Hoard has 21 carries for 95 yards.
Lakeland on Offense
With the numbers that quarterback Charl’Tez Nunnery is putting up, it would be easy to assume that this is a one-dimensional offense. The Muskies quarterback is having an outstanding season, throwing for 698 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 332 yards and five more scores. His challenge has been accuracy, as he is completing just 47.4% of his passes and has thrown three interceptions.
However, Nunnery is not a solo act. Running back Larry Rivers has rushed for 280 yards and two touchdowns, and can easily dominate any game with the ball in his hands. Rivers has rushed for over 3000 yards in his Lakeland career.
Brice Kensey is the leading receiver for Lakeland with 23 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns. This is a big-play offense, as there are not a lot of receptions for other wide receivers, but big yards per reception averages. Jaylen Rido has nine catches and a 17.4 yards per catch average and Mason Prunick has five catches and a 19.2 yards per catch average. Christian Chatman has four catches for 100 yards.
Benedictine on Defense
The Eagles do not get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, recording just four sacks this season. They have four interceptions, but that stat is a little misleading as three came in one game, last Saturday’s contest against Aurora. However, Blake Davis is an outstanding defensive back who limits opposing offenses’ passing attacks
Denzel Simmon leads the team with 30 tackles and has a forced fumble and four pass breakups. Jordan Wilkins is second on the team with 26 tackles and is the team leader in sacks with 1.5.
Lakeland on Defense
While Nunnery is putting up big numbers for the offense, it is the defense that is the headline for this Muskies team. Shazon Crutcher leads the team with 31 tackles and has a sack, two pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. McNemon Vincent is arguably the best pass rusher in the conference with four sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The unsung hero this defense is Andrew Cardiel, who has 22 tackles, an interception, and two pass defenses. Max Ramminger is arguably the best cornerback in the conference with three interceptions, three pass breakups, and six pass defenses.
Keys to the Game
- Do not get beat by the big-play. Lakeland will beat you with the big-play. It does not matter whether Nunnery is throwing deep or is making a huge play with his legs. The Eagles defense needs to make Lakeland work for every yard.
- Keep the pressure on. Benedictine should be taking on Wisconsin Lutheran College this Saturday but took their foot off the gas last Saturday and paid for it. If they have the lead, they need to keep trying to score, especially against a very good Lakeland offense.
- Block, block, block. This Lakeland defense is exceptional at rushing the passer. They make quarterbacks make mistakes and they do not allow for rushing lanes, so the offensive line for Benedictine has to play an exceptional game.
- Give the Benedictine defense something to think about. Nunnery has been a star this season, but to win a game like this they must establish Rivers early in the game. If defensive backs are creeping toward the line to try to shut down Rivers, Nunnery is going to eat them alive.
- Be careful with the ball. As good as Nunnery has been, he has been inaccurate as well. He can get away with mistakes during the regular season, but the Muskies cannot afford them here.
- Do not let special teams beat you. Since Peyton Domangue took over as the kicker, Lakeland has not been giving away extra points. This could be a very close game, so every point will matter.
This is a battle of two very dynamic offenses that have quarterbacks who can take over games. Jarnagin is outstanding, and is not going to be rattled in a game like this. He is careful with the ball and yet makes big plays. Nunnery is not nearly as accurate, but he is spectacular. He can easily turn a broken play into a 60-yard touchdown pass or burst through the line and race for 45 yards and a score.
Where the difference between these two teams lies is in the defenses. The Eagles are a solid group, but Lakeland has the best defense in the NACC. They make big plays, force mistakes and, more importantly, do not make mistakes of their own.
This should be an exciting game. Take Lakeland to win, 35-24.
By Robert Pannier