After a thrilling victory against Cudahy, the Lakeland football team was back at it on the road against Northland Pines on Friday.
There was a lot of back-and-forth play, but ultimately the Thunderbirds prevailed winning 32-27.
Northland Pines started with the ball, trying to establish their run game right away, but it was the Lakeland defense that won. The Thunderbirds forced a fumble and recovered the ball.
Devan Tessmer made his debut in the game, rushing for some big yards and a first down. A holding penalty set the thunderbirds back, but Michael Ouimette answered with a big 20-yard run.
Zach Hayes finished the drive off with a touchdown run around the corner. Lakeland led 7-0.
It was Northland Pines turn to answer. On third down, they converted with a short little three yard run up the middle.
Eventually fourth down would be brought up. That was when Kevin John dumped a short pass to Ryan Peterson, who made a couple of moves and ran it in for the long touchdown. The game was tied at seven.
“It didn’t seem like we played with much passion and heart in the first half,” coach Dan Barutha said. “Nobody being that dynamic leader to get the team fired up. It really showed on defense.”
A nice return by Hayes set the Thunderbirds up at mid-field. Ouimette started with a nine yard run. Then Cody Wolfe caught a short pass for a first down.
On the next play, Hayes ran around the corner and scored his second touchdown of the day. Lakeland led 14-7.
On Pines’ next drive, the name of the game was pace. They moved the ball at their pace. A couple of small rushes brought up fourth down. A quarterback sneak extended the drive.
On third down, Pines again rushed for just a yard to pick up the first down. The tackle was made by Alec LeSavage.
Fourth down was again brought up. This time, it was a screen pass that was executed to perfection. Northland Pines scored and the game was tied at 14-14.
“We had guys with some fundamental breakdown techniques. We had guys at each position violating cardinal rules,” Barutha said. “The good thing is those are physical mistakes we can correct them, we can coach them.”
Lakeland wanted to respond quickly and they did so with their star quarterback. Ouimette started with a run for a first down.
Later, Ouimette ran it outside for a 20-yard touchdown run that put them ahead again. The extra point try was no good and the Thunderbirds led 20-14.
With halftime looming, Northland Pines had a couple more runs up their sleeve. They ran it straight up the middle for a couple of big gains. A couple plays later they found themselves in the end zone.
The Lakeland defense was looking for answers. Pines had scored on three straight possessions and led the game 21-20 at halftime.
Lakeland started with the ball in the second half. After a few first downs, they were forced to punt the ball away.
Looking to add to their lead, Pines looked to get the ground game going again. This time, the Thunderbirds were ready. A third down pass fell incomplete and Pines went three and out.
“Our guys really responded much better in the second half,” Barutha said. “Definitely a tale of two halves in terms of our team personality.”
Ouimette took over on the next drive. He started with a 15-yard run for a first down. A couple plays later he called his own number and ran for 30 yards down to the goal line.
“We were having success with our running backs really opens up the quarterback because when you start getting motion going one way or flow going one way and you bring it back the other way with the quarterback it can really throw the defense of their heels,” Barutha said.
The next play, Tessmer ran between the tackles and scored his first touchdown of the season. The Thunderbirds tried for the two-point conversion, but were unsuccessful. Lakeland led 26-21.
A couple of empty drives by both teams ended the third quarter. Lakeland took their 26-21 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Lakeland defense held Pines scoreless in the third. They tried to do the same in the fourth. But Pines gashed the defense for a couple of big runs that set them up in Thunderbird territory.
Peterson took advantage and scored a 15 yard touchdown to give them a lead again. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful and Pines held a narrow 27-26 lead. Peterson finished with 152 yards rushing and one touchdown.
The kickoff after Pines’ touchdown was returned to the 50 yard line by Hayes. That set Lakeland up with good field position.
Tessmer started the drive going with a seven yard run. Then Ouimette took it himself and extended the drive for a first down.
Lakeland caught a break a couple plays later. Pines got hit with a personal foul that cost them 15 yards.
Taking advantage of that, Tessmer took a carry for a minimal gain. They were inside Pines’ territory.
Ouimette then took advantage of what the defense gave him and ran it four straight plays.
“We knew we had the plus one with running the quarterback with the safety playing over the top especially in the open field situation,” Barutha said.
Down by one, this was a do-or-die drive for the Thunderbirds as there were only two minutes left in the game.
Ouimette picked up a little here and there before he made it to the goal line. There was where he scored it himself on another quarterback keeper. The two-point conversion was no good and Lakeland led 32-27.
Pines had a little bit of time to try to win the game. They also caught a break. A facemask penalty against the Thunderbirds put Pines in a good position.
After some incomplete passes, Peterson ran it himself for a first down. There was under a minute left in the game and Pines was about 35 yards out from the end zone.
On third down, Lakeland’s defense made the biggest play of the game. Chase Hunt intercepted a pass and ran it back to Pines’ side of the field. A quarterback kneel sealed the game. Lakeland had survived again and were 2-0.
“It won us the game. (Chase) made an incredible play,” Barutha said. “He’s such a dynamic athlete, such a great kid and for him to come up with the game-sealing play going into next week really speaks volumes about how much he’s developed as a player and really how talented he is.”
The Thunderbirds next game comes Friday, Sept. 6 at Rhinelander starting at 7 p.m.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]