10/10/2017 7:26:00 AM Simply Superior T-Birds get flattened inside the Superior Dome
Photos by Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times
Lakeland running back Connor Nicklaus gets sandwiched by Marquette’s Ethan Hayes (45) and Justyn Huskey (33) as Nikko Hess looks on during a 55-6 loss on Friday, Oct. 6, at the Superior Dome.
Wide receiver Ray Rentmeester is tackled by Marquette cornerback Ethan Martysz after making a catch during the first quarter of Lakeland’s 55-6 loss on Friday, Oct. 6.
MARQUETTE, Mich. - The message from the Lakeland Union High School coaching staff heading into Friday's contest against Marquette, Mich., at the Superior Dome was to take pride in playing the game and following through on a commitment despite playing without playoff aspirations.
Many of the players who competed in the game did just that, but others did not. Some players could be seen looking at cell phones on the sideline during the second half, others talking to spectators and some more joking around.
Combine that with playing without 10 starters and a series of momentum-changing plays in the first quarter and it results in allowing 41 first half points during a 55-6 drubbing.
"The guys that we saw played their tails off and they played to the best of their abilities," LUHS head coach Dan Barutha said. "We asked them at halftime if they had played to the best of their abilities and they said they did. At the end of the day you're only as strong as two things: your strongest leader and your weakest link. As a program, we need to continue to bring the two together."
Things started inauspiciously for Lakeland, as it went three-and-out to start the game and Marquette only needed five plays before Drew Gale scampered in from five yards out.
The Thunderbirds did not fold, however, as Austin Wanty - the third different starting quarterback this season, thanks to an injury to Tyler Carroll in practice during the week - found Ray Rentmeester for 34 yards. They would continue to march downfield, eventually reaching the Marquette 20-yard line. On a fourth and inches play, Lakeland opted to run a wide receiver screen, which lost yardage and gave the ball back to the Redmen.
"We were having some problems running the football," Barutha said. "They had a 32 box - three down linemen and two linebackers - and they were bringing some pressure. We were having some trouble picking it up. We were a little slow getting off. We wanted to get the ball out of Austin's hands quickly so we didn't put him in a situation where he needed to take a shot. We're playing our fifth or sixth running back this season and they don't have as many reps as the other guys have. We felt, based on our strengths and what we were seeing at that moment, it was the best thing to get the ball to the outside."
Lakeland did struggle to run the ball all night, mustering just 38 yards on 20 attempts, but that play was the beginning of a slow decline.
The T-Bird defense stood tall on the ensuing drive, forcing a three-and-out, but punter Ethan Martysz took off around the right side and went untouched for 38 yards to extend the drive. Again, Lakeland would stop Marquette on three straight plays to force a punt, but this time Martysz threw the ball for an 18-yard gain, extending the drive.
"We didn't see any fake punt stuff on film," Barutha said. "It's the same scheme that we ran against Merrill and Antigo. We call it our 'dance' scheme. We have to man-up and what happens is, because they are rolling their punter, we have a force player on the outside whose responsibility is to slow-attack the outside shoulder and flew too far upfield and got no scrape help from the inside. On the other fake, we just didn't match up man-to-man. It just came down to, are our guys better than their guys or vice versa. On those two plays, they took advantage."
To make a miraculous sequence of events worse, quarterback Brendan Kaski hit Martysz on a hitch, who then flipped the ball to Gale on a hook-and-ladder that resulted in a touchdown.
If the momentum wasn't gone after the two fake punts, it evaporated after that hook-and-ladder.
"The two fake punts kind of chipped away and the hook-and-ladder really took the wind out of our sails," Barutha said. "It became a two-score game. Defensively we had gotten two really good stops and then two breakdowns on special teams. We had the same defense on the field for our punt return. It was a base scheme, a scheme we've run before, but just didn't execute."
Gale went on to rush for 163 yards on 21 carries, while scoring all five of his touchdowns in the first half. Martysz eventually caught a 74-yard touchdown pass from Kaski in the second quarter.
Lakeland got its lone touchdown as Isaiah Draeger fumbled on the three-yard line after a 15-yard catch-and-run, the ball sputtered into the end zone and Cody Wolfe was able to fall on it.
Many of the starters sat for the entire second half as the clock ran throughout. Wanty finished 15 for 22 for 122 yards, while Rentmeester had nine catches for 83 yards, all in the first half.
The T-Birds have one final game remaining on the schedule and one last chance to show their pride. While playoffs aren't on the line, the Northwoods Axe is. Lakeland hasn't lost a game against Rhinelander since the inaugural axe was awarded in 2015.
The Hodags are assuredly coming to play, given it's a home game for them and they are coming off a goal line stand against Ashland that gave Rhinelander its first Great Northern Conference win in four years.
"We had a few more guys nicked up tonight and we'll take the guys that we have moving forward, but there's a definite pride factor," Barutha said. "There's a chance to end the season in a positive manner. Rhinelander is a team that our guys can't stand and rightfully so. It's very bitter and it should be. A rivalry game like this, if you can't get up for that, then you certainly don't have a pulse."
Lakeland (2-6, 1-4 GNC) travels to Rhinelander's Mike Webster Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.