After two games in the loss column, the Lakeland football team needed to get back to their winning ways any way they could. It wasn’t conventional, but the Thunderbirds found a way.
The Thunderbirds beat Antigo 24-13 at Schofield Stadium on Friday night using all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams.
The momentum in the game seemed to shift midway through the second quarter with the Red Robins holding 7-0 lead.
Lakeland quarterback Michael Ouimette had the ball and carried it for a Lakeland first down. The next play, Ouimette threw an outlet pass to Zach Hayes, who out ran the defense for a 63-yard touchdown. The Red Robins blocked the extra point, leading to a 7-6 Antigo lead at halftime.
“It was the right call at the right time with the right players in the right situation,” coach Dan Barutha said. “Credit goes to the offensive line for keeping Michael upright. Michael delivered a good ball, the receivers on the right side Cody Wolfe and Chase Hunt made excellent blocks to be able to spring Zach and you get Zach in the open field he’s got the burners to be able to take it to the house.”
Coming out of halftime, the Thunderbirds wasted no time. A creative offense got first downs and kept the chains moving. Ouimette carried the ball for eight yards. Then, Devan Tessmer ran for a first down out of the wildcat formation.
Chase Hunt had a catch, followed by Hayes with back-to-back first downs. On third down, Ouimette threw a big time pass to the center of the field to Hunt for 26 yards and a first down. They were knocking on the Red Robins’ doorstep.
After three tries to get a touchdown, the Thunderbirds decided to go for it on fourth down, just five yards from the end zone.
Ouimette got the snap and lobbed it to the boundary of the end zone to Cody Wolfe who used all of his height to make the catch and a touchdown. The fourth down gamble paid off.
Ouimette carried the ball for a successful two-point conversion and the Thunderbirds led 14-7.
Special teams became Lakeland’s friend. On the ensuing kickoff, kicker Bode Guthrie kicked a line drive that bounced off the chest of a Red Robin special teams player. The Thunderbirds reacted quickly and recovered the fumble.
“We wanted to do some schematic things to be able to limit their return game,” Barutha said. “Our designed line drive kick where we’re trying to work the wet grass, it bounced off a guy.”
It was three and out for the Lakeland offense, deciding to punt the ball. They had failed to capitalize on great field position. Ouimette kicked a short, line-drive punt to a Red Robins’ special teamer who bobbled and fumbled it. Once again, the Thunderbirds recovered.
“We created our own luck,” Barutha said. “It was a great opportunity and sometimes the ball just bounces our way and we were very fortunate tonight.”
The Thunderbirds had good field position at the Red Robins’ 24-yard line. On fourth down, Lakeland had a good play to Hunt, but the pass fell incomplete and they turned it over on downs.
Again, the Thunderbirds failed to capitalize on great field position.
One final special teams play that impacted the game came midway through the fourth quarter. With the Thunderbirds up 22-13, they decided to punt it away.
The punt was downed at the one-yard line by Miles Holmquist. The Red Robins had 99 yards to go and they were down by two scores.
The great special teams work by the Thunderbirds led to a safety in the end zone. The Red Robins tried to run it out of the end zone, but Tessmer stopped them. The score was 24-13 and the Thunderbirds never looked back.
“The defensive staff had an excellent game plan and put our guys in a position to be able to succeed,” Barutha said. “Our guys as a whole played phenomenal, great communication and forcing them to then become one-dimensional.”
The Red Robins had a good start to the game, scoring a touchdown on their first drive of the game.
On the Thunderbirds first possession of the game, they put together a good drive with catches by Tim Crisco, Hayes, Wolfe and Hunt. They were slowly moving the ball down the field.
On fourth down, Ouimette tried to run the ball for a first down, but was stopped. It was turnover on downs and Antigo’s ball.
It was now the start of the second quarter and the Red Robins were trying to establish their run game. But on third down, quarterback Nevin Cornelius threw a ball that was intercepted by Holmquist. It was Lakeland’s ball down 7-0.
The Thunderbirds didn’t capitalize on the interception and the ball went back to the Red Robins. Isaac Wickersheim carried the ball for seven yards. Then, other running back Noah Musolff ran for five yards.
Cornelius went back to throw and found Alec Hotchkiss for a first down. Isaiah Draeger made the tackle on the play. Wickersheim ran for four more yards and the Red Robins had a nice drive going. Draeger made another tackle.
Coming off a penalty on the Thunderbirds, the Red Robins fumbled the ball on the snap and Hunt recovered for Lakeland with three minutes to go in the first half.
It was a huge stop for the Thunderbird defense and the score remained 7-0.
“Our defense earned the sledgehammer tonight,” Barutha said. “Our defense played phenomenally well. We forced multiple turnovers. I thought schematically, we did an excellent job, not only all of our defenders, but coach Justin Nimsgern, John Kafura and Sid Hunter.”
Antigo had a couple of timeouts to use before the end of the first half, up 7-6. The Lakeland defense came up big. Dwight Miesbauer had a tackle for a loss, then Alec LeSavage had a sack.
The Red Robins led 7-6 at halftime.
Picking it up in the third quarter, the Red Robins had the ball down by a touchdown. A fourth down play came up and this time it was the Red Robins turn to gamble. They went for it and Wickersheim was stopped short of the first by Crisco.
The Thunderbirds yet again had good field position on the Red Robins’ 29-yard line.
A penalty and a Hunt catch put the ball on the three yard line. Ouimette punched it in himself for a touchdown on the next play. Hunt converted the two-point conversion catch and the Thunderbirds led 22-7.
The Red Robins had the whole fourth quarter to make up a two score deficit, but they needed a quick score and they got one.
Tackles by Miesbauer and Nick Kizorek set the Red Robins for a long third down. Cornelius heaved one to Hotchkiss who caught it in the end zone for a touchdown.
Instead of making it a one score game, the Red Robins went for the two point conversion and did not get it. Lakeland led 22-13.
With three minutes to go in the game, the Thunderbirds iced it on a Hayes run. The Thunderbirds snapped their two-game losing streak and won their first conference game 24-13.
“I thought our coaching staff did a great job, hats off to the kids, we made some plays. We took advantage and our team played with a lot of heart, guts, tenacity,” Barutha said. “I’m very proud of our guys. Our guys picked each other up, we rallied and we played with one heartbeat.”
The Thunderbirds next game comes on Friday, Sept. 27 with the Homecoming game against Mosinee starting at 7 p.m.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]