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SHEBOYGAN - Lakeland College scored 24 unanswered points in the second half and sent a big crowd home happy with a 31-7 win over Rockford (Ill.) College on Homecoming and Sheboygan Community Day Saturday afternoon.
The Muskies got their first win of the season and continued their mastery of Rockford, improving to 5-0 all-time against the Regents. Lakeland also won for the first time in Northern Athletics Conference play this season in improving to 1-1 in conference (1-4 overall) while sending Rockford to 0-2 in the NAC (1-4 overall).
The Muskies got off to a good start in the game but then had to relocate their momentum after Rockford plugged away and tied the game going into halftime. Lakeland would do just that by scoring touchdowns on its first two drives of the third quarter, and the defense generated a number of big plays to keep the Regents from coming back.
Lakeland took the opening kickoff and went 60 yards in nine plays, with Kendrick Burks (So.-Pontiac, Mich.) scoring from four yards out for an early 7-0 lead. The Muskies made it look easy on the first drive, but little would come easy the rest of the first half as a pair of interceptions and a missed field goal kept Lakeland from adding onto its score.
Rockford struggled to move the ball on every possession but one in the first half, but that was all it took for the Regents to tie the game. Rockford gained 69 of its 84 yards in the half on one drive, going 10 plays and keeping Lakeland off balance with a mix of play action and misdirection plays. The Regents scored when quarterback Aabed Nekrawesh kept the ball on a bootleg rollout and scored from five yards out with 6:07 left in the second half.
The Muskies came out strong in the second half and quarterback Dylan Van Straten (Jr.-Shiocton, Wis.) rushed for touchdowns of 10 and four yards in the third quarter, the second with 4:26 left in the quarter to make it 21-7. As they did the entire game, the Muskies did much of their best work on the ground, running on 12 of 14 plays over the two drives
While the offense came alive, the defense was making life difficult for Nekrawesh. Lakeland sacked the Rockford quarterback seven times, all in the second half, and came up with a big stop following a Regents fake punt that gained 51 yards and put Rockford in the red zone. The Muskies pressured Nekrawesh into a fumble two plays later, and Matt Hill (Jr.-Iron River, Mich.) picked it up on the bounce and ran 55 yards before finally being caught from behind.
Lakeland would turn the ball over on the ensuing drive, but the Muskies tacked on a 35-yard field goal by William Yelverton (Fr.-Oconomowoc, Wis.) with 9:48 left in the fourth quarter. Lakealnd then salted it away with four minutes to play, as Van Straten went up top to Norman Grinstead (Fr.-Taylor, Mich.) for a 73-yard touchdown to close out the scoring.
Van Staten rushed 14 times for 71 yards and Burks added 22 rushes for 65 yards as the Muskies gained 204 yards on the ground. Justin Laack (Sr.-Sheboygan Falls, Wis.) came on for Burks in the second half and added nine carries for 28 yards, and in all Lakeland ran 52 running plays to 16 passing plays.
Van Straten also completed 8 of 14 passes for 164 yards, with Chris Jaskulski (Jr.-Greenfield, Wis.) leading the receivers with three catches for 45 yards. The Muskies gained a season high 368 yards of total offense, overcoming three turnovers.
Erik Lucht (Jr.-Greenleaf, Wis.) made 10 tackles to lead the defense, while Bruce Romagnoli (Sr.-Iron Mountain, Mich.) and Trevor Tanck (So.-Baileys Harbor, Wis.) added seven tackles each. Romagnoli added 1 1/2 tackles for loss including a sack, and Tanck made 2 1/2 tackles for loss including a pair of sacks, and also forced a fumble.
Romain Johnson (Fr.-Pontiac, Mich.) also added two sacks, and as a unit Lakeland limited Rockford to 206 yards of offense. The Muskies also limited the NAC's leading rusher, Matthew Botello, to just 25 yards on 12 carries, 79 yards below his average.
Lakeland will look for its second win in a row next Saturday when it travels to face Maranatha Baptist Bible College at 1 p.m. in Watertown.