Things are starting to look up for the Lakeland football team.
The T-Birds rallied in the second half to beat Antigo last. Now, they must take that momentum and use it against Mosinee tonight.
Lakeland hosts Mosinee in the Thunderbirds’ second home game and fourth conference game overall tonight, which also happens to be the Homecoming game for Lakeland.
Mosinee plays a different style of football than Lakeland has played against the last four games. Mosinee likes to throw the ball.
Northland Pines, Rhinelander, Medford and Antigo all liked to run the ball in some way, shape or form. Mosinee doesn’t run the ball all that often. Mosinee is led by quarterback Trey Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is 103 of 154 for 1,482 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a 66.9 completion percentage and averages almost 300 yards passing per game.
“It’s almost like looking in the mirror compared to where we have been as a program and how much we have put it in the air,” coach Dan Barutha said.
Fitzgerald needs to throw to someone and he has three big targets. Cyle Kowalski has 32 receptions for 512 yards and three touchdowns. He averages 102 yards per game.
Then, there is Drayton Lehman who’s caught 43 receptions for 450 yards and six touchdowns. He averages 90 yards per game and leads the team in touchdown receptions.
Michael Dul is the other big receiver. He has 18 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns. He has big play ability, averaging 21.6 yards per reception.
Fitzgerald, like Michael Ouimette, also leads his team in rushing. Fitzgerald has 191 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, making him a focus of the Lakeland defense. But with that being said, Mosinee does not have as balanced an attack as Lakeland.
“I look at our rushing numbers, we’re greater than 50% running the ball,” Barutha said. “We’ve been predominantly 50-50, but our big chunk yardage has come through the air.”
Defensively, Mosinee is led by William Kennedy with 49 total tackles and Nolan Harris with 43 total tackles. They each have a sack as well.
Lehman leads the team with three interceptions, one that has been returned for a touchdown. Ouimette will have to be weary of his presence when he steps back to pass.
“(Mosinee) showed some different stuff this year than what they’ve run previously at us. I think it’s taking advantage of the mismatches and doing some things schematically from a philosophical standpoint that we can get guys in motion,” Barutha said. “We can get guys and try to get extra guys at the point of attack in the run game and use our motion game, not only in the run game, but in the pass game as well.”
The game of the year for Mosinee came against Wausau East on Sept. 6. Mosinee showed off its weapons in that game.
Down 21-7 in the first quarter, Mosinee came back to tie and eventually go to overtime with Wausau East. After a touchdown throw to Kowalski in overtime, Mosinee went for two and didn’t get it. Wausau East beat Mosinee 45-44.
Mosinee’s season can be summed up in that game. Fitzgerald threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns. Lehman had 18 receptions — the fourth most in a single game in state history — for 214 yards and two touchdowns. And Mosinee only had 57 yards rushing for just 1.7 yards per attempt.
The forecast for tonight is calling for potential rain and Barutha thinks it might help Lakeland, rather than hurt them.
“They’re calling for potential rain and normally I would hate playing in the rain with the style of offense we play, but with that being said I think it plays into our advantage because (Mosinee) ran the ball nine times Friday against Ashland,” Barutha said. “And a wet ball creates a lot of problems trying to get the ball out down field and push it down field.”
Last week against Antigo, Ouimette used three different receivers. Chase Hunt had two receptions for at least 18 yards on either third or fourth down.
Zach Hayes had a 63-yd touchdown catch that sparked the Lakeland offense for the rest of the game. Hayes also had two catches for first downs in the second half.
Cody Wolfe had a catch on a fourth and goal play to give Lakeland the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. It was Wolfe’s first touchdown of the year.
With an explosive offense that Lakeland has, getting in a certain formation or play is something they want to capitalize on.
“We also want to be able to mix up our looks. We got some schematic things that we’re going to try off of that to try and not get stuck in a look,” Barutha said. “We want to get the defense in a look that we like and then figure out where best to attack them.”
It might end up being a battle between Fitzgerald and Ouimette throughout the game. And each quarterback has three targets that they like to use.
As far as the Lakeland defense goes, their defensive line and linebackers showed up against Antigo. Players like Alec LeSavage, Nick Kizorek and Chris Thoma among others limited Antigo’s rush, especially in the second half.
“The defensive line is really important. You have to be able to win the battle up front,” Barutha said. “If we can get penetration from the inside or even Nick on the outside, it really can stall what the offense is trying to do especially on first down and get them behind the chains. If we can disguise some of those things and disguise our pressure I think it can definitely open up not only Nick, but Alec and our linebackers as well, when we want to be able to bring pressure.”
The big picture
This is a big game for Lakeland in a couple of ways. Not only is it Homecoming, but they are two wins away from being playoff eligible. Winning a game against Mosinee could propel the team to having one of its biggest seasons in years.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]