9/21/2012 9:59:00 PM Lakeland loses heartbreaker to Rhinelander Thunderbirds held the lead in the fourth quarter before falling 26-18
Josh Bartlett (left) takes on a Rhinelander tackler during Friday night's game at Lakeland Union High School. Lakeland led in the fourth quarter but the Hodags scored 12 unanswered points to earn the 26-18 win. Bryan Rose photograph
The Lakeland Union High School football team made big plays against Rhinelander put could not put the game away Friday, falling 26-18 to the Hodags. Lakeland took the early momentum as Josh Roza took the opening kick off down to the Rhinelander eight yard line. The Thunderbirds could not punch it in the endzone and had to settle for an Arin Alesauskas 22 yard field goal to go up 3-0. Rhinelander answered with a 68 yard touchdown drive on their next possession and collected the two point conversion to make the score 8-3 after the first quarter. The Hodags found the endzone late in the second quarter as they ran the ball in from six yards out to go up 14-3. Lakeland would strike back before the half, however, as they went on a scoring drive. A key play in the drive was a 30 yard pass from John Aguirre to Brian Biertzer that took the ball down to the Hodag three yard line. Tom Bruckner would punch it in from one yard out two plays later and Lakeland cut the lead to 14-11. Rhinelander was driving before the half but the Lakeland defense came up with a big play to halt the advance as Nick Peterson intercepted the Hodag pass leaving the score at 14-11 at halftime. Rhinelander started with the ball in the second half and promptly drove the ball down the field. The Lakeland defense, however, came up with another big turnover as Aaron Demers knocked the ball free from the Rhinelander quarterback and Brandon Wipperfurth jumped on the loose ball at the T-Bird three yard line. Then it was Lakeland's turn to march down the field as they showed good balance on offense with a 45 yard run by Roza and an 20 yard pass play to Biertzer. Roza capped the 97 yard march with a 10 yard run and Lakeland led 18-14 going into the fourth quarter. In the fourth, Lakeland had the ball and faced a fourth down and decided to go for it. Rhinelander's defense held and Lakeland gave the ball over on downs. The Hodags took advantage as they collected a 55 yard touchdown run on the next play and retook the lead at 20-18. Lakeland was forced to punt on their next possession but the defense held and forced a Rhinelander punt with two minutes to play in the game. But a nice punt by the Hodags and a Lakeland penalty pinned the Thunderbirds at their own nine yard line. The Thunderbirds could not pick up a first down and turned it over with 1:10 to play. Rhinelander, instead of kneeling on the ball and running the clock out, ran the ball in from nine yards out. The Hodags missed the extra point, giving Lakeland life with 1:05 to play and just an eight point margin at 26-18. But an interception by Rhinelander at midfield ended any hopes of a Thunderbird comeback and left Lakeland with a 26-18. For more on this game, including comments from coach Mike Mestelle, see the Tuesday print edition of The Lakeland Times. Bryan Rose may be reached via email at email@example.com.