Muskies Win Outright NACC Title

Johnathan Hagerty
Johnathan Hagerty

Courtesy of Lakeland University

PLYMOUTH, Wis. -- Freshman Johnathan Hagerty (Brookville, Ind.) threw six touchdown passes in his first collegiate start and Lakeland University capped a perfect run through the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference with a 57-31 win over Rockford University Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field.

The Muskies delivered another offensive show on Senior Day with freshmen leading the way, and the result was an outright NACC title and the team's second 6-0 conference mark in the last three years. Lakeland wrapped up its regular season with an 8-2 mark and now wait for its assignment in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs next Saturday.

Hagerty made the start in place of Michael Whitley (Sr.-Vidalia, La.) and completed 30 of 39 passes for 244 yards while also tying for the second-most touchdown passes in a game in school history, behind only the seven Whitley threw earlier this season against Adrian (Mich.) College. He led the Muskies to touchdowns on their first four drives in building a 30-0 lead by early in the second quarter, and in all the offense scored TDs on eight of his 10 drives.

Five different receivers were on the receiving end of his scores, all of them seniors. Allante Gardner (Detroit, Mich.) caught 11 passes for 104 yards and a score, Dezmen Morse (Milwaukee, Wis.) caught two TD passes, and Jody Harrison (Pontiac, Mich.), Peyton Petersen (Farmington Hills, Mich.) and Jawon Turner (Brooklyn, Wis.) all added touchdown catches, including Turner scoring the first touchdown of his collegiate career.

Lakeland also piled up 298 yards on the ground, and both Larry Rivers (Fr.-Dearborn Heights, Mich.) and Dezmon Eddie (So.-Alexandria, La.) topped 100 yards on the day. Rivers rushed 13 times for a career-high 155 yards and Eddie added 17 rushes for 129 yards in his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.

In all, the Muskies finished with 562 yards of offense, just below their NCAA Division III-leading average of 579.4 yards per game entering the contest. They converted on 7 of 10 third downs and did all their damage despite nearly five minutes less time of possession than the Regents, including 37 points in the first half in just 10 minutes of possession.

Lakeland might have generated more yardage if not for good work by the special teams. The Muskies blocked a pair of punts, including one early in the second quarter by Chris Bustamante (So.-El Paso, Texas) that gave them possession at the Rockford 16 and led soon after to Hagerty hitting Harrison for a score. Lakeland also recovered a number of short kickoffs by the Regents, and Petersen also returned a kick 43 yards to make for another short field leading to a touchdown.

The Muskies defense was in charge the first three quarters, allowing a pair of long drives but otherwise forcing five punts and stopping another drive on downs. Lakeland led 50-12 after three quarters before Rockford scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the final score more respectable.

Donte Rowell (Sr.-Chicago, Ill.) paced the defense with 11 tackles, Eddie Strickland (Jr.-Racine, Wis.) contributed nine tackles and Diante Moses (Jr.-Houston, Texas) added eight tackles. Dajuan Darling (Sr.-Detroit, Mich.) also finished with five tackles, including three for loss, and the Muskies as a team totaled 13 tackles for loss including three sacks.

Delayno Mack completed 7 of 12 passes for 115 yards and threw three touchdowns for Rockford (1-8 overall, 1-5 NACC). Drake Barlow rushed for 95 yards and starting quarterback added 15 carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns as the Regents gained 256 yards on the ground and a total of 371 yards of offense. Brice Spence led the Rockford defense with a game-high 13 tackles.

The game was the final one at home for 13 seniors honored before the game, including Darling, Harrison, Morse, Petersen, Rowell, Turner, Whitley, Conrad Foss (Muskegon, Mich.), Jesse Kleiman (Kewaunee, Wis.), Jack Merrill (Iron Mountain, Mich.), Dustin Peterson (Whitelaw, Wis.), Eric Prestay (Powers, Mich.) and Mason Ross (Pulaski, Wis.). The four-year members of the team are part of a run that has included a 29-11 regular season record, a 22-2 mark in NACC games, four conference titles and three trips to the Division III playoffs.