The Lakeland Lakers continued their dominance on the gridiron over their county neighbors from Prairie Heights last Friday night in LaGrange in the annual Milk Can Game.
Led by a punishing ground attack which piled up 344 yards and 20 first downs, and a defense that forced five turnovers and blocked a punt, coach Keith Thompson’s Lakers breezed to a 35-7 victory over the Panthers.
The win was Lakeland’s ninth straight over Prairie Heights and 34th in the series dating back to 1969. The Panthers’ last Milk Can Game triumph came in 2003.
“It’s nice to get the first game out of the way and get some of our new starters’ feet wet in varsity competition,” said Thompson. “We ran the ball effectively and threw when we had to, but need to finish off our drives a little better.
“But give Prairie Heights some credit,” Thompson added. “They are an improved football team and caused us a few problems offensively, especially in the first half.”
Early on, it looked as though the 2012 Milk Can Game was going to be a repeat of last year’s debacle – an 83-20 Lakeland romp. After forcing a Prairie Heights three-and-out on the game’s initial possession, the Lakeland offense marched 59 yards in six plays, culminating on a three-yard touchdown pass from William Kelly to Cory Troyer. Marco Olivares’ PAT kick gave the hosts a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the tilt.
Kyler West’s 32-yard return of the ensuing kickoff gave the Panthers the ball near midfield. But Heights could do nothing in the next three plays and was forced to punt again.
Taking over at their own 25, the Lakers swiftly moved the ball 50 yards to the Panther 25. But on first down, Jordan Aldrich was jarred loose from the ball and Heights linebacker Jacob Heller recovered the fumble to stop the drive.
Lakeland got the ball two plays later when Evan Garretson pounced on a Bobby Blum fumble at the 28. However, three successive tackles for losses by the Panther defense, the last two on quarterback sacks by Heller and Dylan Stayner, pushed the Lakers out of scoring position.
“Our kids competed and lived up to our motto: ‘All in every day, all out every play’,” stated Prairie Heights’ first-year head coach Vince Royer. “Those defensive stands in the first half was a great example of that.”
The Panther offense finally got a big play early in the second quarter when Blum broke free on a 37-yard scamper to the Laker 32. But that’s as far as Heights would get and a bad snap in punt formation allowed Lakeland to start its next possession near midfield.
Nine plays later, Taylor Raatz sliced through the Panther defense for an eight-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 Laker lead. Halfback Joey Fuller accounted for 36 of the 57 yards on the scoring march.
Fuller, who led the victors in rushing with 123 yards on 20 carries, scored both Lakeland touchdowns in the third quarter to help open up a 28-0 gap. His first score came on a nine-yard burst to cap off a six-play, 86-yard drive highlighted by a 44-yard jaunt by slotback Cory Troyer.
Later in the stanza, Garretson blocked a Prairie Heights punt near the end zone. Fuller scooped up the ball at the seven and sprinted in for the touchdown.
“Evan (Garretson) works very hard and is such a physical talent that he is going to make plays,” said Thompson of his junior defensive tackle. “He deserves all the credit and praise he gets.”
Troyer, who rushed 13 times for 110 yards, tallied his second touchdown of the game on a nine-yard sweep around left end four minutes into the final quarter. A fumble recovery by linebacker Logan Owens set up the score.
Prairie Heights got on the board with 5:26 left in the game when Stayner busted through a huge hole and out raced the Lakeland defense to complete a 53-yard touchdown jaunt. Spencer Lake tacked on the PAT boot.
“Our backs are allowed one cut after they hit the hole and then they are to run north,” said Royer. “Dylan (Stayner) did a nice job of that on that touchdown run.”
Kelly, making his first start as the Lakeland signal-caller, went 6-9 through the air for 46 yards. T.J. Thompson hauled down three of Kelly’s aerials for 26 yards.
The Lakers travel to Fremont and the Panthers host Fairfield in NECC action this Friday.
Prairie Heights 7
Scoring by quarters
PH 0 0 0 7 -7
LL 7 7 14 7 -35
LL—Cory Troyer three-yard pass from William Kelly, Marco Olivares kick (7:36)
LL—Taylor Raatz eight-yard run, Olivares kick (4:12)
LL—Joey Fuller nine-yard run, kick blocked (3:21)
LL—Fuller seven-yard punt return, Kiel Hunter conversion run (0:57)
LL—Troyer nine-yard run, Olivares kick (8:04)
PH—Dylan Stayner 53-yard run, Spencer Lake kick (5:26)
First Downs 25 8
Rushing Yds. 344 146
Passing Yds. 46 17
Total Yards 390 163
Total Plays 66 38
Turnovers 2 5
Penalties 3-35 0-0
LL—Fuller 20-123; Troyer 13-110; Raatz 6-65; Aldrich 6-31; Casper 2-12; Roebel 1-9; Barker 1-3; Weber 1-2; Lozano 1-(-2); Kelly 3-(-28)
PH—Stayner 3-57; Blum 16-42; Bland 4-29; Heller 5-24; Johnson 4-(-6)
LL—Kelly 6-9, 46
PH—Johnson 1-6, 17
LL—Thompson 3-26; Raatz 1-10; Aldrich 1-7; Troyer 1-3
LL—Leary 4.5; Owens 4.5; Attikisson 4.0; Moore 2.5; Kerr 2.5
PH—Shepard 10.0; West 7.0; Stayner 6.0; Everidge 6.0; Heller 5.0; Gaetz 5.0