Lakeland traveled to Medford on Friday hoping to spoil the Raiders first game on its newly renovated football field, but the home team sent its fans away happy after hanging on for the 34-32 Great Northern Conference victory in overtime.
The Raiders’ running game and defense dominated the first quarter. Senior Garret Hill capped off a 55-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run to give Medford a 6-0 lead with :19 left. The two point conversion failed.
After trading punts in the second quarter, Lakeland’s offense hit the new field turf at its own six-yard line. Junior quarterback Michael Ouimette threw one to the right side but the pass was intercepted by Raiders sophomore Blaine Seidl at the 24-yard line and he returned it to the T-Birds one-yard line. Hill ran it in on the next play and Medford led 12-0 after another failed two-point conversion with 8:10 left in the 2nd.
The Lakeland special teams unit picked up the offense and defense on the ensuing kickoff. Junior Chase Hunt received the kickoff at his own 12-yard line and followed his blockers up the left sideline and ran it back 88-yards for the touchdown. Senior Jake Rexroade ran in the two-point conversion from the wildcat formation and Lakeland was within four points just 13 seconds later, 12-8.
Medford began at their own 31-yard line on the next possession and marched 69 yards with junior Ean Wilson capping off the drive with a touchdown run from the one-yard line. Sophomore Payton Kuhn ran in the two-point conversion and the Raiders led 20-8 with 1:38 left in the half.
After Lakeland went three and out, Medford got the ball back and took it to the T-Birds 13-yard line with three seconds left. After calling a timeout, Raiders head coach Ted Wilson elected to let the clock run out instead of taking one final shot at the endzone and went into halftime with the Raiders leading 20-8. The decision to forgo the opportunity to score would come back to haunt Medford in the second half.
On the T-Birds’ second offensive possession of the 3rd quarter, Lakeland drove the ball 65 yards and scored on a one-yard touchdown pass from Ouimette to senior Ray Rentmeester. The two-point conversion failed and Lakeland was within six at 20-14 with 4:10 left in the quarter.
Lakeland’s defense came up big on the next drive as senior Brandon Slavinsky recovered a Garett Hill fumble and Lakeland was in business at the Raiders 39-yard line. They turned the turnover into points as Ouimette took to the air again and threw a beautiful pass to junior Zach Hayes for a 15-yard touchdown to tie the game 20-20 with :08 left in the 3rd quarter. The two-point conversion failed.
“We figured out what they were doing and what they were doing in the first half was actually different than they were doing in the second half,” Lakeland head coach Dan Barutha said. “Our guys played with confidence and we were really starting to click and gel.”
Lakeland got the ball back again after another Medford miscue. The T-Birds recovered a muffed punt and the offense took over at the Raiders 39-yard line again. With 7 minutes left in the game, Ouimette tossed his third touchdown pass of the night by finding senior Jake Rexroade in the right side of the endzone and Lakeland led 26-20. The T-Birds scored 18 unanswered points.
“We were rolling on offense,” Barutha said. “Whatever coach (Matt) Krueger was calling was certainly turning into gold.”
Medford tied the game 26-26 with 2:26 left on a four-yard touchdown run by Hill but the two-point conversion failed. Lakeland punted after going three-and-out and the Raiders nearly won on the final play of regulation from the T-Birds 25-yard line as Hill took a short pass from senior quarterback Jobe Miller and plowed his way towards the endzone but the Lakeland defense stopped him one foot short of the goal line as time expired and the game went to overtime.
Lakeland elected to defer in OT and Medford had the first opportunity from the 25-yard line on the west end of the field. Five running plays later, Hill scored a one-yard touchdown and Wilson ran in the two-point conversion as the Raiders led 34-26.
The T-Birds knew they needed to score a touchdown and get the two-point conversion to keep the game alive and they succeeded the first objective six plays later as Ouimette found a wide open Cody Wolfe in the right side of the endzone for the five-yard score to cut the deficit to 34-32. Ouimette dropped back to attempt a pass for the two-point conversion but Medford’s Ean Wilson blitzed into the backfield untouched and sacked Ouimette before he could throw the football on the games final play.
“We played with more confidence than we did in the first half and showed a lot of character of our team and what we can do coming together,” Barutha said. “I just told them how proud as a staff and me personally we are of them.”
Ouimette finished with four touchdown passes to four different receivers. Lakeland (1-2, 0-1 GNC) hosts winless Antigo (0-3, 0-1 GNC) at River Valley Bank Field on Friday. The Red Robins were the preseason pick to win the Great Northern Conference but are off to a rough start after losing at home to Ashland last week.