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Joe Paul returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown with 1:06 left in the game and Concordia University Wisconsin defeated the Lakeland College football team 23-16 Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field in the 21st annual Cheese Bowl game.
Paul's kickoff return came immediately after the Muskies had driven the field to score a touchdown and tie the score in the final two minutes. Concordia keeps the Cheese Bowl trophy for the second straight year and improved to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the Northern Athletics Conference. Lakeland was dealt a tough loss and dropped to 2-5 overall and 2-2 in the NAC.
Paul found a large opening through the left side on the kickoff return and then broke four tackles on a muddy field that had absorbed several straight days of rain before sunshine on Saturday. He spun through the tackle of kicker Brandon Riesterer (So.-Kiel, Wis.) at the Lakeland 40 and ran through the mud the rest of the way for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
Lakeland had just finished going 62 yards in eight plays and scoring with 1:22 left when Dylan Van Straten (Jr.-Shiocton, Wis.) hit Chris Jaskulski (Jr.-Greenfield, Wis.) for a five-yard touchdown pass on a slant to tie the score. The Muskies missed a chance to go ahead at that point when the extra point was wide right, but still had to feel good about their chances after the defense had held the Falcons to minus-nine yards on their previous two possessions and had made Concordia work for almost every yard it gained throughout the game.
The Lakeland defense held Concordia to 290 yards of total offense and shut down the Falcons' rushing game. Concordia had the advantage in field position for much of the game, though, and the Falcons' previous points of the second half both came on short drives.
A drive that started at the Muskie 31 late in the third quarter was extended on a pass interference call in the end zone on third and goal, and the Falcons' Austin Damaschke hit Scott Schieble for a two-yard touchdown pass on the next play for a 13-10 lead. Concordia took over in Lakeland territory again on its next drive and drove down as far as the Muskies' four before Lakeland held, forcing a 27-yard field goal to make it 16-10.
Lakeland did have one final chance to score in the final minute, driving as far as the Concordia 43. A costly holding penalty wiped out an 18-yard pass from Van Straten to Richard Micheaux (Fr.-Taylor, Mich.), and the drive ended with eight seconds left when Van Straten's desperation fourth down pass to Jaskulski was just out of the receiver's grasp at the Concordia 30.
Prior to its touchdown drive in the final minutes, the Muskies had just 65 yards of offense in the second half, all coming on a two-play drive early in the third quarter. On the second play of the drive Kendrick Burks (So.-Pontiac, Mich.) broke a wave of tacklers at the line of scrimmage and had nothing but daylight ahead, going 56 yards for a touchdown to give Lakeland a 10-6 lead with 11:06 left in the third quarter.
The first half was also a battle, with both teams gaining just five first downs in the first 30 minutes. The Muskies scored on the opening drive of the game, going 48 yards in 10 plays. The drive stalled at the Falcons' 10-yard line, and Riesterer kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
Concordia needed just one play on its second possession to take the lead. Damaschke found James Saunders running wide open across the middle, and Saunders ran through the defense for a 47-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good, keeping the score at 6-3.
Van Straten completed 12 of 22 passes for 106 yards and also rushed 19 times for 69 yards. Burks carried the ball 17 times for 79 yards, while Jaskulski led the receivers with five catches for 53 yards. Lakeland gained 256 yards of offense, including 150 yards rushing.
Patrick Johnson (So.-Pontiac, Mich.) led the Muskie defense with nine tackles, while Bruce Romagnoli (Sr.-Iron Mountain, Mich.) added seven tackles, with 3 1/2 tackles for loss, including 1 1/2 sacks. Lakeland registered six sacks of Damaschke and completely shut down the Falcons' rushing attack, holding the Falcons to minus-seven yards on 26 rushing attempts.
Damaschke completed 28 of 44 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns for Concordia. Garrett Wenzelburger caught 11 passes for 117 yards and the Falcons held a 290-256 advantage in total offense. Matt Lechler had 3 1/2 tackles for loss, including 2 1/2 sacks to lead the CUW defense.
Concordia is now 13-8 in Cheese Bowl games and leads the all-time series between the schools 22-18. Included in that record is a 21-12 lead in the series since Concordia started playing football as a four-year school in 1980.
Lakeland is back on the road next Saturday to face Aurora (Ill.) University at 1 p.m. in Aurora in an NAC game.