Lakeland steals Merrill’s thunder at homecoming
The Bluejay gridiron gang battled through the cold rain on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 5, for their homecoming game with the Lakeland Thunderbirds. It was an even game throughout, however the T-Birds would emerge victorious, beating the Jays 14-7 to put a damper on their homecoming.
Merrill was able to find success on offense, out-gaining Lakeland in total yards for the game, however just couldn’t seem to find the promised land.
“I am proud of how the team played,” said Bluejay head coach Rob Klug. “We were able to move the ball, but we couldn’t find a way to get into the end zone. The blocked punt that set up the Lakeland touchdown in the first was disappointing, but we responded well.”
Late in the first quarter of action, Lakeland would get to Merrill punter Caleb Timm and block his punt attempt, setting the T-Birds up at the Merrill 20-yard line. It would only take a few plays before Lakeland found the endzone on a 7-yard throw and catch with 4:22 remaining in the quarter, however a two-point attempt would fail, making it a 6-0 game. With time running out in the first half of play Lakeland took control of the ball deep inside their own territory. Merrill’s Alex Mann then forced a Lakeland fumble, which he would also recover, giving the Bluejays the ball on a short field. With only 17 seconds remaining in the half, Caleb DeJong would run a QB sneak into the endzone for a Merrill touchdown. The point after would go through the uprights as the Jays took a 7-6 lead into halftime.
In the second half of action the Merrill defense would do a good job limiting the Lakeland offense, however struggled to make the stops when it counted.
“We weren’t outstanding on defense,” added coach Klug. “We put ourselves in good positions to make stops, but then we didn’t execute and we really struggled to get off the field.”
The Thunderbirds would use Merrill’s defensive struggles to their advantage on their first drive of the second half, moving the ball down field while chewing up a significant amount of clock, before finding the endzone on a five-yard run from Erik Albertus. The T-Birds would go for two again, this time converting to bring the game to it’s final score of 14-7.
Caleb DeJong led the Jays offensive attack, rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts, while completing 4-11 passes for 57 yards. Timmy Handlin ran for 45 yards on 12 attempts, while Nik Zastrow rushed for 38 yards on 11 tries, respectively. Following a big game against Ashland Eddie Collinsworth would only total five carries on Saturday.
“Lakeland did a good job of really stacking up the middle of their defensive line,” explained Klug. “We ran our running backs a little more than usual, because that inside option just wasn’t there.”
Despite not getting the ball much on offense, Collinsworth was solid on the defensive side, totaling a team high six tackles. Zach Iribarren would also total six tackles, Caleb Timm had five and Alex Mann would end with three tackles and a forced fumble.
Next up for the Jays will be another tough opponent in Rhinelander. The Hodags currently sit at 5-2 overall and 2-2 in conference, following their 21-20 loss to Mosinee on Friday, Oct. 4.
“Rhinelander has found some success this season,” added Klug. “They still have that big running back from last year and they should be a tough test for our team.”