Muskies Clinch Third Straight Playoff Trip, Share Of NACC Title

Dezmon Eddie
Dezmon Eddie

Courtesy of Lakeland University

PLYMOUTH, Wis. -- Dezmon Eddie (So.-Alexandria, La.) rushed for 308 yards, breaking a 27-year old school single-game record, and Lakeland University clinched its third straight NCAA Division III Playoff appearance with a 49-13 romp over Concordia University Chicago Saturday at rainy Taylor Field.

Eddie broke Mark Smith's mark of 281 yards set against Blackburn (Ill.) College on Sept. 29, 1990, and did so in three quarters of work in another powerful performance by the Muskies offense. He led another record-breaking day as Lakeland (7-2 overall, 5-0 NACC) wrapped up at least a tie for its fourth consecutive Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference crown and locked up the conference's automatic berth to the playoffs.

The Muskies weathered the wet conditions and their own mistakes to pile up 599 yards of offense, doing so even while committing a season-high six turnovers. Lakeland did much of its damage on the ground, gaining 418 yards rushing, the team's third 400-yard rushing day this season.

Eddie did much of that work in the first half alone, rushing for 258 yards just in the first 30 minutes. He scored on a 52-yard run and also set the table for three Michael Whitley (Sr.-Vidalia, La.) touchdown passes as the Muskies built a 35-0 lead at halftime.

Eddie broke Smith's record on his second carry of the third quarter, and then put it well in his rearview mirror with a 15-yard run later in the quarter, one of eight runs of at least 10 yards on a day when he carried 30 times and averaged 10.3 yards per run. The sophomore has now rushed for 667 yards over the last three games since taking over for the injured Eldrada Meeks.

Lakeland's passing game also was performing well in the rain in the first half, with Whitley hitting Jody Harrison (Sr.-Pontiac, Mich.) for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 3:43 left in the first quarter to get on the board, and then adding throws of 10 and 32 yards to Dezmen Morse (Sr.-Milwaukee, Wis.) for scores early in the second quarter. The latter ended with defensive tackle Sam Bartlett (So.-Racine, Wis.) running it in for the two-point conversion and a 22-0 lead.

Whitley left in the second quarter, and the passing game slowed from there, though freshman Johnathan Hagerty (Brookville, Ind.) threw his first collegiate touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, a 23-yarder to Allante Gardner (Jr.-Pontiac, Mich.) on fourth down to make it 42-13. Hagerty also added a two-yard run for a touchdown later in the fourth.

Larry Rivers (Fr.-Dearborn Heights, Mich.) also bowled over CUC defenders for 94 yards, nearly giving Lakeland two 100-yard rushers. About the only time the Muskies were stopped was when they committed turnovers, as four interceptions and two fumbles kept the Cougars within range early and helped them briefly draw closer in the third quarter.

Concordia (3-5 overall, 1-4 NACC) got on the board midway through the third quarter when Shane Virnala connected with Robert Dominguez, who eluded defenders for an 11-yard touchdown. The Cougars then received the ball back on the first play of Lakeland's ensuing possession, with DeShawn Battle intercepting, and Tylor Martens followed with a 10-yard scamper to make it 35-13.

Otherwise, the Muskies defense was in control, holding the Cougars to 230 yards and just 11 first downs. CUC rushed 34 times for a net of 16 yards, and Cougar quarterbacks also completed just 14 of 45 passes and were intercepted three times.

Oman Smothers (Gadsden, Ala.) intercepted a pair of passes in the first half, bringing the total for his freshman season to seven. Joe Starks (Fr.-Labadieville, La.) also added his first collegiate interception and broke up four passes.

The Muskies also racked up five sacks and 15 tackles for loss, with Bartlett, Michael Hilliard (Sr.-Detroit, Mich.), Eric Prestay (Sr.-Powers, Mich.), Donte Rowell (Sr.-Chicago, Ill.) and McNemon Vincent (Fr.-Vernon Hills, Mich.) also posting at least one sack. Ivan Martinez (Jr.-Custer Park, Ill.) also added a fumble recovery.

Jerry Stokes (So.-Missouri City, Texas) and Dajuan Darling (Sr.-Detroit, Mich.) paced the defense with seven tackles each, and both posted 2.5 tackles for loss each. In all, the defense held Concordia to 2.9 yards per play, and the Cougars were just 5-for-20 on third down conversions.

Lakeland topped 500 yards of offense for the seventh time in nine games and exceeded its incoming average of 577 yards per game that led Division III and ranked second in all of the NCAA, behind only the University of Oklahoma. The Muskies also set a new school single-season record for total offense and now have 5,200 yards on the season. That's better than the previous mark of 4,853 set by the 1997 team that went 10-0 and was honored in a 20th anniversary celebration at halftime of the game.

Lakeland closes out its regular season next Saturday when it hosts Rockford University at noon at Taylor Field.

Muskies by the numbers:
4 - Straight NACC championships for Lakeland, its longest string of league titles since winning five straight Gateway Conference titles from 1967-71 under John Thome
6 - Straight games Lakeland has scored at least 47 points
7 - Interceptions this season for freshman cornerback Oman Smothers, a total that pending other results Saturday would put him fourth in all of NCAA Division III
8.0 - Yards per rush attempt for the Muskies
15 - Tackles for loss by the Lakeland defense, including five sacks
16 - Total yards rushing for Concordia in 34 attempts
20 - Years since the 1997 Muskies finished a perfect 10-0, and also years that team's school record of 4,853 yards of total offense in a season stood until this year's team topped it
31.1 - Completion percentage in 45 passes for Concordia quarterbacks
258 - Rushing yards for Dez Eddie in the first half, a mark that alone would've tied for the fourth-best rushing performance in school history
308 - Rushing yards in the game for Eddie, a new school single-game record
426 - Yards of total offense in the first half for the Muskies
5,200 - Yards of total offense this season for Lakeland