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Lakers plagued by turnovers in Homecoming loss to Duluth Denfeld

It wasn't the infamous H1N1 virus inflicting the Detroit Lakes football team Friday night, instead it was something more devastating which contributed to the Lakers' 20-12 loss -- fumble-itis.

Costly turnovers ended up being the biggest detriment in Detroit Lakes' Homecoming loss to visiting Duluth Denfeld, in the form of four fumbles.

Those fumbles not only took points off the board for the Lakers, but turned into the eventual game-winning touchdown by the Hunters in DL's third loss of the season.

"We came out slow and I don't know if everyone came out ready to play or not, but it's something which needs to be corrected," said DL assistant and offensive line coach Vern Schnathorst. "As an offensive team, we need to get more consistent and put the ball in the end zone."

The crucial fumbles started early and ran throughout the game, killing a couple of potential DL scoring drives, while creating a short field for Duluth Denfeld.

Give credit to the Laker defense for holding the Hunters to a punt and a turnover on downs series early in the game, where DL had back-to-back lost fumbles.

Several defensive stands throughout the game allowed DL to stay in the ballgame up to one of the last drives, where a 52-yard bomb to wide receiver Josh Stalberger from quarterback Joe Mollberg set up the home team for the potential game-winning score from the Hunter 17, with under two minutes to go.

Mollberg hit Stalberger with a high lofted pass, where the tall wide receiver was able to go up and snatch the ball at its highest point.

The Lakers were trailing 14-12 at that point, but four consecutive incompletions -- including an overthrow to the corner of the end zone on fourth down -- deflated DL's hopes of pulling off the dramatic comeback.

Instead, Duluth Denfeld's bruising fullback, C.J. Ham burst through the offensive line and rambled the 81 yards for the touchdown on the ensuing drive, to put Denfeld up 20-12 with 39.1 seconds remaining.

The Laker defense held Ham on the two-point conversion, while taking over the ball on the kickoff at their own 35.

But the clock expired on a desperate Mollberg pass down field from his own 39.

The Lakers started to loosen up the Hunter defense in the second half, after trying to rush the ball in the first half for a total of 26 times -- with three fumbles stopping all but one drive.

"They were playing with nine guys in the box and when that happens, you have to be successful throwing it," Schnathorst said. "But we just were not consistent with anything and that hurt us."

DL's second touchdown was set up on Stalberger's first 52-yard catch-and-run, after Mollberg hit him flying down the seam early in the fourth quarter with the Lakers trailing 14-6.

After the big play, Mollberg converted a third and 10 with a keeper, after rolling left and seeing open field in front of him due to a double team on Stalberger, to pick up 13 yards.

One play later, the DL quarterback lumbered into the end zone for a three-yard score.

But the Lakers failed to convert any extra-point kicks or two-point conversions, keeping the score at 14-12.

The Lakers tied the game after a fumble recovery of their own on Denfeld's 15 in the second quarter.

DL pounded it the rest of the way with Alex Mason's legs five plays later.

But another fumble in the third quarter led to an eight-play, 42-yard Denfeld drive, capped with a Ham one-yard dive for the 12-6 advantage.

Another big fumble came on the Denfeld two-yard yard line in the second quarter, which bounced through the back of the end zone for a touchback -- thus spoiling a golden opportunity to tie the game 6-6.

DL also missed out on some more points by stalling on the Denfeld 15 on fourth and two, also in the second quarter, which came on the drive after the fumble on the goal line.

The Lakers did outgain the Hunters by a 309-289 edge, while snapping 63 plays to Denfeld's 59.

Mollberg finished with 169 yards -- 144 of them to Stalberger.

Ham had 157 yards rushing on 20 carries, but with 81 of those coming on the one touchdown run.

"Our defense did a great job, but the offense just gave them a short field with those turnovers," Schnathorst said.

The Lakers (2-3) will be on the road for their remaining three games, starting with a road trip to Class 5A power Minnetonka Friday at 7 p.m.

They have to travel to Thief River Falls Thursday, Oct. 15, then to Duluth East Wednesday, Oct. 21.