Courtesy of Lakeland University
OSHKOSH, Wis. -- An exceptional Lakeland University football season came to a harsh end as the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh shut out the Muskies 63-0 Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Muskies struggled in all aspects of the game against the undefeated defending national runner-up Titans, the third-ranked team in Division III. Lakeland saw its season end in the playoffs for the third straight year, finishing 8-3 overall, while UW-Oshkosh (10-0 overall) advanced to a second-round game next week against North Central (Ill.) College, which defeated St. John's (Minn.) University 17-7.
The Titans scored touchdowns on eight of their 11 offensive drives and also added an interception return for a touchdown. Oshkosh scored quickly, with five of its scores coming on drives of five plays or less, and also took advantage of four Muskies turnovers, turning them into 21 points.
The Lakeland offense moved the ball at times, particularly finding some success running. The Muskies were unable to close out drives, though, with five penetrations into Titan territory coming up empty, including three inside the UWO 25-yard line.
Eldrada Meeks (Jr.-Southfield, Mich.) returned from an injury that had sidelined him for nearly a month and rushed 20 times for 87 yards. Dezmon Eddie (So.-Alexandria, Mich.) also added 16 carries for 60 yards, as Lakeland rushed for a respectable 160 yards that aided in a nearly seven-minute advantage in time of possession.
The Muskies passing game chipped away all day but was unable to generate any big plays. Michael Whitley (Sr.-Vidalia, La.) returned from a knee injury two weeks earlier against Concordia Chicago and completed 28 of 49 passes for 145 yards, though the Titans intercepted him three times. Whitley also did not attempt a run all game, though the Lakeland offensive line kept him clean without a sack.
Allante Gardner (Sr.-Detroit, Mich.) caught nine of Whitley's passes for 43 yards, giving him a school-record 79 receptions this season. Gardner broke the 21-year old record held by Brandon Lawson, who had 78 catches in 1996.
Mason Ross (Sr.-Pulaski, Wis.) led the defense with eight tackles, with Mario Rafe (Jr.-Bourbonnais, Ill.) adding seven tackles. McNemon Vincent (Fr.-Vernon Hills, Ill.) also added a sack as he finished the season with 9.5 sacks.
UW-Oshkosh outgained Lakeland 490-305 for the game, including 277 yards rushing and 213 passing. The Titans averaged 8.3 yards per offensive play and also were 6-for-9 on third downs.
Whitley wrapped up his senior season with totals of 276 completions in 430 attempts for 3,124 yards and 32 touchdowns. Eddie also came up just short of 1,000 yards rushing for the year, finishing with 972 yards.
The game was the final one for 13 seniors, including Ross, Whitley, Jody Harrison (Pontiac, Mich.), Michael Hilliard (Detroit, Mich.), Jesse Kleiman (Kewaunee, Wis.), Jack Merrill (Iron Mountain, Mich.), Dezmen Morse (Milwaukee, Wis.), Dustin Peterson (Whitelaw, Wis.), Peyton Peterson (Farmington Hills, Mich.), Eric Prestay (Powers, Mich.), Donte Rowell (Chicago, Ill.) and Jawon Turner (Brooklyn, Wis.).