Jacob friede/lakeland times

The Lakeland defense wraps up Marquette’s Robert Apple, a task they had to do all night, includig a trio of fourth down stops in the red zone to help secure a 20-14 homecoming victory Friday night.
Jacob friede/lakeland times

The Lakeland defense wraps up Marquette’s Robert Apple, a task they had to do all night, includig a trio of fourth down stops in the red zone to help secure a 20-14 homecoming victory Friday night.
When Lakeland’s homecoming game ended Friday night, under a mist as close to snow as it can get and still be called rain, the ball sat as close to the goal line as it possibly can before putting up points. 

Running away from that ball was an ecstatic mob of victorious Thunderbirds who had just denied visiting Marquette on fourth down in the red zone for the third consecutive drive to seal the homecoming win 20-14 at River Valley Bank Field.

When asked how his team was able to answer the bell under the pressure of such a close game, head coach Dan Barutha said it was a matter of his team keeping it together and staying together as well.

“Composure and character,” said Barutha. “We had coach Jay Buckley, who was the head coach of the Lakeland Union State Championship team here. The 1983 team that was honored here tonight. He spoke with our guys last night at team dinner. He talked about having a link and being able to carry your link like a chain link forward so that you do your part to not let down your teammates and that was the message in the pregame and our guys did that.”

And though Buckleys message could evoke images of the team as a fence, the Thunderbirds took it further and became a wall.  But it was a wall that had to be built.

Marquette came out strong to start and was able to score on the Lakeland defense on their first drive. After a series of runs and a recovered fumble, Marquette went over the top as quarterback Brendan Kaski hit receiver Ethan Martysz for a 40 yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.  

Lakeland would match that drive with a touchdown of their own on a Michael Ouimette quarterback keeper, a play which became a vital weapon, all night, for the Thunderbirds.

“They had a 43 look so four linemen three backers and they would walk up a safety.  So we knew if they’re showing seven in the box, the QB is the extra guy.”

Marquette, however, also found a mismatch, through the air, and Kaski would hit Martysz again and take a 14-7 lead.

But Lakeland came right back with another lethal QB keeper as Ouimette sprinted 38 yards for his second touchdown of the game towards the end of the half and the score would be 14-14 at the break.

Ouimette would run for 91 yards on the night, joined in the ground attack by Zach Rice, who had 48 yards, and Brandon Slavinsky, who had 36.

We wanted to be able to run the football,” said Barutha “We knew we were going to see a 32 box and it was kind of a question of when they would get out of it. They got out of it pretty early, but we still wanted to run the football.”

Marquette wanted to do the same in the second half, but Lakeland had a complete wall built in the second half that the Redmen couldn’t break through.  

Running back Robert Apple, who was Marquette’s work horse all game, started the third quarter rumbling for a few first downs until he was stopped on third and three at the Lakeland 16 yard line. Marquette would try a field goal and miss and the second half shut had begun for the T-Bird defense.

The offense took advantage of being given the ball back and rode a ground attack and another couple keepers into Marquette territory. Then Ouimette finally went over the top and hit Jake Rexroade for a 31 yard touchdown.

Austin Wanty, though, missed his first field goal of the night, and the lead was a dangerous 20-14.

But if there was danger, you could sense no sense of fear from the Lakeland defense as they would stop Marquette on the next three consecutive drives on fourth down in the red zone.  

On one of these stops Lakeland had to rebound from a fumble deep in their own territory with three and a half minutes left in the game.  

“We knew that we were going to face adversity. You’re gonna face it, its just a question of when and what’s the situation over the course of 48 minutes.”

When that 48 minutes was over, the guts needed to overcome all those challenges produced a glorious homecoming.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” said Barutha. “Our defense rose to the occasion.” 

The Thunderbirds (3-5, 1-4 GNC) will rise once more next Friday at River Valley Bank Field to complete their season against Rhinelander. The game is set for 7 p.m. 

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@

lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakeland