10/17/2017 7:27:00 AM AXED Hodags shred the T-Bird defense to win the Northwoods Axe
Photos by Bob Mainhardt For the River News
Lakeland wide receiver Ray Rentmeester slips through the grasp of two Rhinelander defenders on his way to the end zone for one of his two touchdowns in a 49-34 loss on Friday, Oct. 13.
Bob Mainhardt For the River News
Rhinelanders Drake Martin attempts to leap over Lakeland defensive lineman Nathan Pitek (75) during a Great Northern Conference game on Friday, Oct. 13, at Mike Webster Stadium.
RHINELANDER - Stopping opponents has been a struggle all season long for Lakeland Union High School football.
Heading into the final game of the season at Rhinelander on Friday night, the Thunderbirds had allowed at least 400 yards of total offense in every game but one.
Rush defense has been a particular bugaboo, allowing more than 300 yards per game, and that trend continued against the Hodags. Rhinelander ran for 310 yards, including 208 on 34 carries from sophomore sensation Drake Martin, but believe it or not, that wasn't the worst.
The Hodags went 13 for 15 on third down, including five touchdowns from quarterback Logan Freund, scoring on seven of its eight possessions - not including a kneel down at the end of the game - to capture the Northwoods Axe for the first time in a 49-34 win over Lakeland.
"We couldn't get off the field on third down and that becomes problematic," LUHS head coach Dan Barutha said. "We had some alignment issues and communication problems that just really hindered us tonight. We didn't play with an edge - partially we did - but throughout the entire course of the game, on defense, we didn't play with an edge, a belief, didn't play with a killer instinct and it's frustrating."
Freund, who entered the game completing just 35.8 percent of his passes on the season, went 12 for 18 for 224 yards and five touchdowns, four of which came on third down, while adding another on the ground.
Lakeland was no slouch through the air either, however, as Tyler Carroll went 17 for 28 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, with his main target once again being Ray Rentmeester, who hauled in nine passes for 148 yards and two scores. Jake Rexroade also had six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
"They were cover 3 and early on they were bringing some pressure and then backed off," Barutha said. "We saw that they weren't as tall at corner so we knew we had some size matchups on the outside. It goes back to the belief, knowing that it's the players not the plays. We knew we had to get the ball into the hands of our key guys, and that's Jake Rexroade and Ray Rentmeester. Those guys are game-changers, with a game-changer delivering the ball in Tyler Carroll. We had to look for ways to get those guys open."
Carroll also ran for 93 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, and was a late-game sack away from a 100-yard night.
In total, Lakeland had 350 yards of offense and 34 points, scoring on five of its eight possessions, excluding a one-play Hail Mary attempt on the last play of the first half.
In most scenarios, that should be enough to win a game on any given night, but when the opposing offense goes nearly perfect on its possessions, it's tough to ask your offense to reciprocate.
"We didn't do a good enough job of getting off blocks and wrapping up," Barutha said. "There were times where we were catching guys and you're not going to win too many games when you do that and don't win your individual technique."
Of course the winner of the game would get the Northwoods Axe, but the loser of the game would be relegated to sole possession of last place in the Great Northern Conference.
In six weeks, Lakeland has gone from a last-second win over Medford to open the conference schedule and put playoffs on the brain, to losing every game since that point. Conversely, Medford blasted Ashland on Friday night to qualify for the playoffs after it started the season 0-3 thanks to that loss to the T-Birds.
It's a disappointing way to end a season for a team with so many athletic players and such high expectations, not just at the beginning of the season, but just six weeks ago.
"The standings are what they are, and ultimately, you're only as good as your last game and evidently tonight (we weren't) good enough," Barutha said. "I think this should be a learning lesson for the guys coming back in the program and for the seniors to not let opportunities slip away.
"You only get so many opportunities in life to do something that you love, and for the guys coming back, use it as a learning lesson that we need to hit the weight room," Barutha continued. "Strength and conditioning is an important factor, being a multi-sport athlete is an important factor, having commitment year-round to not only being a football player, but to being a Lakeland student-athlete inside the weight room, inside the classroom, is a huge factor in our success."
Lakeland ends the season 2-7 for the third consecutive year, while also going just 1-5 in the GNC.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.