In a rivalry game for the axe, the Lakeland football team traveled to Rhinelander to take on the Hodags on Friday night.

In a tough, grind-it-out game, Rhinelander used their rushing attack to a 25-7 victory.

First half

There was no offense in the first drive of the game for the Thunderbirds, but Michael Ouimette set Rhinelander back with a long punt that went inside the Hodags’ 15-yard line.

Right away it was the Hodag quarterback making plays. Quinn Lamers threw a pass to running back Drake Martin that went for 36 yards. 

Martin followed that up with a 25-yard run. The Hodags were threatening right away. A couple plays later, Peyton Erikson ran it in from 14 yards out for a touchdown. 

The extra point was no good and the Hodags led 6-0.

In Lakeland’s next drive, the Hodags’ defense stood tall again and the drive didn’t go very far. The explosive Thunderbird offense had only one first down on two drives.

“We tried running the ball inside,” coach Dan Barutha said. “They mixed up the looks and had a really good game plan.”

On the Hodags’ next possession, Martin had a 10-yard run. He tried to do it again, but the next attempt he had only four yards after a tackle by Isaiah Draeger.

Eventually it came to fourth down where Lamers was stuffed up the middle by Brady Olson. The Hodags turned it over on downs.

“The defense played incredible,” Barutha said. “We had five, six third down stops against a power running attack.”

There wasn’t a whole lot of offense for the rest of the first quarter. Lakeland still only had one first down through one quarter, but their defense was giving the Hodags problems.

“(The Lakeland defense) rose to the occasion,” Barutha said. “Overall the defense played with a lot of heart.”

That changed with their first drive of the second quarter. Ouimette took it himself for some yards and a first down. It then looked like Cody Wolfe had a big 30-yard catch, but it was brought back due to a penalty.

“When your making mistakes, making penalties and putting yourself in a hole quite a bit and then punting from inside your 20-yard line multiple times, it really flips the field and you don’t play complimentary football,” Barutha said. 

The drive stalled and no points were scored. Rhinelander still led 6-0.

Lakeland looked as if they were building their momentum late in the second quarter, but a fumble prevented a drive that could have tied the game.

The Hodags capitalized on that turnover with a Martin 11-yard touchdown run with :32 seconds left in the first half. The two-point conversion failed and they led 12-0.

The Thunderbirds still wanted more points. Chase Hunt had a big catch in the middle of the field, but the next play Ouimette threw it in tight coverage and it was intercepted. 

“We want to be able to push the ball vertically down the field,” Barutha said.

The Hodags led 12-0 going into halftime.

Second half

The Lakeland defense continued to be tough. On the third play of the third quarter, Zach Hayes picked off a pass. The next drive would be the Thunderbirds best of the game.

Ouimette used four short passes to Hunt and Hayes to get some yards and positive plays going. Then, Wolfe had a nine yard catch.

Hayes came up clutch yet again. He had a big 20-yard catch down the sideline that put them in business. 

“We were taking advantage of stuff underneath, threw it to the boundary quite a bit,” Barutha said. “We wanted our athletes to be able to move the ball.”

In the red zone, Ouimette threw an incomplete pass, but the Hodags were tagged for pass interference. Two plays later, Ouimette ran it in from four yards out. The score was 12-7 Hodags.

The Hodags rolled down the field in response. Martin had another big run of 19 yards that put them in Thunderbird territory. When it came to fourth down, the Lakeland defense rose to the occasion again and got a stop. It was Lakeland ball.

The next drive by Lakeland went three and out. Then it was the Lakeland defense forcing another punt of the Hodags. But the Lakeland offense stalled again.

Back and forth the teams went with no offense taking advantage of what their defense was giving them.

“You just like to be able to see the offense and defense compliment each other to win a game where you’re playing on the plus side of the field quite a bit,” Barutha said.

Eventually, the Hodags had the ball again with good field position and a pivotal fourth down play up 12-7 in the fourth quarter. Martin took the carry and squeezed out three yards for a first down.

Rhinelander continued to pound the ball with their rushing attack until Martin scored again from one yard out. The kick was good and the Hodags expanded their lead to 19-7.

The Thunderbirds needed a response and had a good start with a Hunt catch for 20 yards. After a couple of non-efficient plays, another fourth down came up. The Thunderbirds couldn’t convert and turned the ball over.

Martin was feeling it. The next drive he had a 60-yard run that put the Hodags in a spot to put the game away. Eventually, Martin ran it in from two yards out. The kick failed and they still led 25-7.

“Rhinelander had some pretty big explosive plays,” Barutha said.

Martin finished the game with 237 yards on 29 attempts and three touchdowns. 

The Thunderbirds kept coming. Ouimette hit Wolfe for a 15-yard catch, but a penalty and a sack stopped their momentum and they turned the ball over on downs.

Ouimette finished with 218 total yards and a touchdown. Hunt had eight receptions for 51 yards.

The Hodags took possession and ran the clock out. The game was over and the Hodags had the axe.

The Thunderbirds next game comes Friday, Sept. 13 against Medford starting at 7 p.m. It is the Thunderbirds’ home opener on the season.

Brett LaBore may be reached at brett@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.