10/6/2017 7:29:00 AM T-Birds set to invade the Superior Dome
Dean Hall/lakeland times
Ray Rentmeester has 16 receptions for 361 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games for Lakeland, including seven catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns last Friday against Ashland.
Allen Dehority/Northern Michigan University Athletics
Lakeland travels to Marquette, Mich., tonight to play the Redmen in the Superior Dome, on the campus of Northern Michigan University.
DETAILS: 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6 at Superior Dome, Northern Michigan University
LAST WEEK: Lakeland lost to Ashland, 46-40. Marquette lost to Kingsford (Mich.), 21-0.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: Pride. Lakeland was eliminated from playoff contention in last week's loss to Ashland. This should be an important test of the character on the team, given there are two more weeks left in the season.
NOTABLE: Lakeland is 2-8 in its last 10 games against teams from the Great Northern U.P. Conference, including a 35-0 loss to Kingsford, Mich., last season.
Many people think the measure of a team or program is how they play during big games or games that count for something beyond pride.
In high school sports, where the value goes beyond wins and losses and into life lessons, how a team performs when there is nothing on the line other than pride is the measuring stick. Good programs - even in a down year - give 100 percent on the field no matter who the opponent is or what's at stake.
Tonight, Lakeland Union High School will measure its resolve when it travels to Marquette, Mich. After last Friday's loss to Ashland knocked the Thunderbirds out of the playoff hunt, there is nothing at stake other than pride and the love of the game.
"The message this week is really for the seniors," LUHS head coach Dan Barutha said. "'You've got eight days to be able to play with this group of brothers before it's over and you never get to play with these guys again.' For the seniors that are interested in playing college football, it's two more weeks to put together the best kind of game tape you can to (get) ready for the next level. For the guys that are coming back next year, it's two more opportunities to prepare for a season next year where they don't want to have this feeling again of opportunities wasted and opportunities not taken advantage of. There's a bittersweet taste in all of our mouths about how the season has gone."
There is some uniqueness to this particular game, however. Lakeland has an opportunity that few high school football teams get, which is the chance to play in a dome.
The T-Birds battle Marquette High School in the Superior Dome on the campus of Northern Michigan University.
Opened in 1991, the Superior Dome seats 8,000 people and is the world's largest wooden dome.
It marks the first time Lakeland has played in a dome since 1994, when it played Phillips in the now-demolished Metrodome in Minneapolis.
"It's a definitely a neat opportunity and experience for our guys," Barutha said. "I coach a program where if I were a player I'd run through a wall for a head coach and if I were an assistant I would never want to leave and it's about creating great experiences for everybody involved to say they were a part of something special. I hear the game that Lakeland played in (1994) at the Metrodome. That was (23) years ago and people still talk about that. It's a tremendous experience, it's a unique experience and one these kids may never be able to get again."
Like Ashland the week before, Marquette's offense doesn't offer many frills. The Redmen like to get into an I-formation and run the ball as much as possible.
Running back Drew Gale is nearing 1,000 yards this season and it's likely Marquette will feed him to the T-Birds in heavy doses, particularly since Lakeland is allowing 315 yards per game on the ground this year.
The Redmen don't go to the air often, but Brendan Kaski is a capable quarterback when they do. His favorite target is Ethan Martysz, who has found the end zone five times this season.
"I look at Marquette in terms of their 'I' running game and they remind me a lot of Medford, in terms of their C-gap power and what they're trying to do," Barutha said. "It'll be a great test for us and another tremendous opportunity."
Defensively, Marquette has a tendency to flip between a 4-3 and a 4-4 defense. Either way, the ball needs to be in the hands of Tyler Carroll as much as possible.
Lakeland tried to move Carroll around as much as possible to get him the ball in space. The senior totaled 433 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, while racking up a pass, run and catch, each of 35 yards or more.
The offense sputtered at times, however, when he wasn't behind the center and when he was finally put there for good, the offense erupted.
Carroll led the T-Birds to 23 unanswered points in a span of five minutes at quarterback. He threw for 318 yards and completed nearly 68 percent of his passes.
Still, Lakeland plans to move him around a bit, although he will be the primary quarterback.
"We have the packages in, we'll move him around a little bit, but he's going to be taking most of the reps," Barutha said.
The T-Birds have been at their best offensively when they try to play run-and-gun football. Whether it was in the fourth quarter against Medford, Mosinee or Ashland, Lakeland has had its most success on offense playing that style.
That philosophy also saw a spike in production toward the end of last season. Ironically, it leads to more possession time than Lakeland usually has, and other teams have controlled the time of possession against the T-Birds drastically, so a defense being fatigued shouldn't be a factor.
One of the players who benefits from playing that style is wide receiver Ray Rentmeester, who is having a breakout season with Jake Rexroade and Garrett Holtz dealing with nagging injuries and double coverage this year.
Rentmeester has exploded in the last three weeks, catching 16 passes, while 361 of his 516 yards have come in the last three games, along with four of his five touchdowns. He also exploded last week, racking up 187 yards and two scores on seven receptions.
"Ray has stepped up big time," Barutha said. "If you look at the growth and development Ray has put in the weight room, into the summer stuff and the confidence that he had as a sophomore to now as a junior has been tremendous ... I told him, 'If I were you, I'd scratch, claw and I would refuse to let anyone take away my spot. They would have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.' That's the attitude he's pretty much had the entire season. We knew that based on what he showed during summer 7-on-7 that he could have a big year."
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.