Sports can be unpredictable. Just when you think one thing will happen, the opposite occurs. There is a lot of unpredictability in Lakeland football’s next game.
The Thunderbirds host their first home game of the season when Medford comes to town tonight. It will be the Thunderbirds’ second conference game of the season.
Medford comes into the game 3-0, 1-0 in the GNC conference thus far. They have dominated opponents, winning by an average of 28 points, including a 41-14 win against Ashland on Sept. 6 and are currently ranked fourth in the WisSports.net/WFCA Division 3 Coaches Poll.
Just like Rhinelander, Medford comes into the game with a dominant rushing attack. Ean Wilson leads the team with 480 yards rushing on 72 attempts.
Wilson’s averaged 160 rushing yards per game and has scored eight touchdowns already.
“Ean Wilson is a really patient runner; he’s a really good runner,” coach Dan Barutha said. “Medford is predicated on their rushing attack.”
The other back they will use is Emett Grunwald. He has 46 attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown.
As for quarterback play, Nate Retterath leads a passing attack used when needed. He is 13 of 26 for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
“They throw it when you don’t expect it and they run it when you expect them to throw it,” Barutha said. “They have a lot of good players; they got a lot of belief in the things that they do.”
Leading receivers are Justin Sullivan and Logan Nelson. Sullivan has three receptions for 59 yards and Nelson has three receptions for 22 yards.
The defense has been as good as the offense. They have two shutouts this year and limited Ashland to 14 points, most of which came in mop-up time last week.
Blaine Seidl leads the team with 22 tackles and one fumble recovery. Colton Surek is right behind him with 16 tackles. Applying pressure to the quarterback is Grunwald. He has six tackles for a loss and two sacks.
“Rhinelander was running cover four,” Barutha said. “They’re trying to take away the explosive plays. (Medford’s) going to run cover zero. They’re going to go man-to-man on our outside receivers.”
Medford’s quarterback can also play some defense — Retterath has the team’s only interception along with his five tackles.
Medford hasn’t gone on the road yet, and the Thunderbirds have yet to host a game.
The Thunderbirds’ home crowd and the team’s eagerness to play at home might make a difference against Medford, who haven’t yet left the comforts of home.
The Thunderbirds come into the game 2-1, 0-1 in the conference. Most recently they lost to Rhinelander 25-7 on Sept. 6.
Michael Ouimette has been the primary force for the Thunderbirds so far. He can run and he can throw.
Throwing the ball, Ouimette is 44 of 76 for 476 yards and three touchdowns. Running the ball, he has 68 attempts for 334 yards and five touchdowns.
His 68 attempts more than doubles the next highest player. That is a lot of usage from their quarterback.
Ouimette will need to be careful of his pass selection against this stingy Medford defense, as he has four interceptions on the season.
Chase Hunt continues to be the main receiver. He has 23 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
Last week against Rhinelander, Hunt had eight receptions, but only 51 yards. He will look to be more explosive this week.
“The middle of the field we’re going to have opportunities to be open, not only on our vertical routes, but our seams, our posts as well,”?Barutha said.
In order to be more dynamic, the Thunderbirds are working on blitz pickup this week.
“The key is we have to pick up the blitzes and have solid protection,”?Barutha said. “In addition with the heavy blitzing, we have to be able to run our screen game.”
Zach Hayes continues to be an all-around solid player. Not only does he have three touchdowns on offense, but he had an interception last week against Rhinelander.
The Lakeland defense needs to be stout against the Medford rushing attack. The Thunderbirds should be more than ready, having seen two potent rushing attacks from Northland Pines and Rhinelander.
But the results have been hit and miss. Rhinelander only had 12 points through three quarters, but Lakeland failed to finish the game. Rhinelander’s Drake Martin finished with 237 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Northland Pines had 224 yards rushing as well. But this time, the Lakeland defense made a game-defining stop late in the fourth quarter.
Turning the tide and playing a complete game will be an emphasis. Defenders like Dwight Miesbauer, Isaiah Draeger and Benn Zimmerman will look to lead the way.
“It goes back to focus and effort,” Barutha said. “Offensively, we have to be able to make big plays and be able to possess the ball. Defensively, it really comes down to focus and effort.”
It’s going to take all the members of the Thunderbird football team to take down the mighty, undefeated Raiders.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]