Ledbeter leads as Somerset football reaches Level 3 of WIAA playoffs
Senior quarterback Tyler Ledbeter was the big-play maker for the Somerset football team as the Spartans advanced through Level 2 of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs last Friday.
Ledbeter ran for four touchdowns and passed for another in leading the Spartans to a 33-10 over Bloomer.
The victory advances the Spartans to Level 3 of the playoffs. The Spartans, the top seed in the sectional bracket, will host St. Croix Central at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Seibel Field. Central is the seventh seed in the tournament bracket, but the Panthers have knocked off the second and third seeds in their first two playoff games.
Somerset is now 9-1 this season after the win over Bloomer. Bloomer provided plenty of surprises on Friday, using a variety of offensive and defensive looks in an attempt to confuse the Spartans. Somerset's defense wasn't confused. The Spartans limited Barron to 101 yards of offense on 44 plays.
Bloomer tried running plays out of four different formations, even borrowing the Single-Wing formation that Durand had used in Somerset's only loss of the season.
The Blackhawks were just as varied on defense, using 4-3, 5-2, 5-3 and 4-4 looks in the game, often playing with 10 defenders at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to shut down the Spartan running game. It worked, most of the time. But when it didn't, you often saw Ledbeter streaking down the field for a touchdown.
"They basically threw the kitchen sink at us," said Somerset coach Bruce Larson. "The kids did a good job of handling all those things."
With Bloomer committing so many players to stopping the run at the line, if a Somerset back could break containment, they could break away. That's what happened with Ledbeter. On each of his four touchdown runs, he had to wait for his blockers to clear an opening before he could turn the ball upfield. Larson said that patience and vision has made Ledbeter a game-breaking threat.
"Tyler's a great athlete and he's an even better kid. He carries himself with a great presence," Larson said.
The first quarter of Friday's game was scoreless as the coaches tried to find any openings in the opposing defense. Bloomer got the first break of the game when the Spartans fumbled a punt deep in Somerset territory late in the quarter. The Spartan defense didn't let Bloomer convert the turnover into a touchdown, so the Blackhawks had to settle for a 33-yard field goal at the 10:46 mark of the second quarter.
Bloomer's defense had given up just 30 points in its last 18 quarters of football entering Friday's game, so the Blackhawks were a polished defensive squad. But on the first play after Bloomer scored, Ledbeter showed why the Spartan offense has been so successful. He carried left, waited until the blockers could create a seam, and then sprinted 84 yards for the touchdown.
Bloomer responded by driving into Somerset territory, but Riley Paulus broke up a fourth down pass to stop the Blackhawk charge.
The teams then exchanged punts, with sacks from Max Praschak and Paulus ending Bloomer's possession. Somerset got the ball back at its 48 with less than two minutes left in the half. The Spartans got the ball to Bloomer's 19 with nine seconds left in the half. Somerset split receivers Luke Praschak and Gaelin Elmore to the outside, with Bloomer expecting a pass to one of them. Instead, halfback Gabe Flandrick darted down the middle of the field, completely uncovered, catching the ball at the goal line for the Spartans' second score of the game.
One of Somerset's strengths this season has been scoring late in the first half to get the team some extra breathing room heading into the second half.
The Spartans didn't score on their opening possession of the second half, a rarity, but they did on their second possession. Ledbeter broke free for a 79-yard score to put Somerset ahead 20-3.
Somerset linebacker Bobby LeRoy ended the next Bloomer possession with an interception, but Somerset's special team troubles were about to come to a head. Somerset's punt was blocked, with the ball finally being covered at the Spartan 5-yard line. It took Bloomer three plays to reach the end zone, with Colton Seibel scoring from a yard out. Seibel was held to 48 yards on Friday, after gaining more than 100 yards in each of previous four games.
Somerset's defense made a big play in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. Linebacker Luke Praschak stepped in front of Bloomer's tight end to intercept a pass at midfield. After a 25-yard run by fullback Vern Breault, Ledbeter was able to follow his blocking for a 25-yard score that made the lead 26-10.
Ledbeter scored his fourth touchdown minutes later after another Spartan defensive stand. This time Ledbeter cut outside his right tackle, threaded his way across the grain, before cutting upfield for a 36-yard score.
Ledbeter finished the game with 267 yards rushing on 17 carries. This was the second straight game the Spartans had a 200-yard rusher. Breault rolled up 200 yards in the previous win over Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau. Both Ledbeter and Breault have rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.
The win earns the Spartans the rare opportunity to play their third straight home playoff game this Saturday. The coaches have pushed all season to get the team in a position to earn the top seed in the bracket, knowing how well the team traditionally performs on its home field.
Coach Larson said the defense has been the constant in the team's success. The Spartans have allowed 71 points in their 10 games.
"The defense we're playing is as good as we've ever played," Larson said.
What had the Spartan coaches alarmed on Friday were the breakdowns in the team's special teams effort. Giving up a blocked punt, fumbling away a punt, two missed extra points and a long kickoff return were all flaws that the coaches want to clean up before this Saturday's game.