Somerset earns fourth trip to WIAA state championship football game
All season long, the Somerset football seniors have said they wanted to play to the last day possible in their final season.
The only way that would be possible was to reach the WIAA state championship game. The Spartans accomplished that feat, winning a gritty defensive battle with Bloomer in the Division 4 state semifinal game, 18-13, on Friday in Chippewa Falls.
The win propels the Spartans into the WIAA state championships this Thursday and Friday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Somerset will battle Wrightstown in the Division 4 championship game, which will be played at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
This is the fourth time in the past 10 years that Somerset has qualified for the state championship game. They reached the Division 5 state title game in 2002, 2004 and 2005. They won the state championship in 2002 and took second place in 2004 and 2005. They lost to Lancaster 17-14 in their last state appearance in 2005.
In that same 10 year stretch, Somerset has reached the state semifinal game five times. The Spartans are 4-1 in those games.
After needing five overtimes to beat Bloomer in the second week of the season, the Spartans knew they'd have a battle on their hands when the two teams met again on Friday. Defenses ruled the game, with two big plays from the Somerset defense proving to be the turning points.
Somerset safety Robbie Flom was involved in both of those plays. The score was tied 6-6 in the final minute of the second quarter after Somerset fumbled the ball away near midfield. On the next play, Bloomer tried a swing pass toward the Somerset sideline. Somerset linebacker Austin Bushinger blitzed, forcing a hurried throw to running back Craig Lundgren. Lundgren caught the pass, took two steps and was drilled by Spartan cornerback Tyler Ledbeter. The jolt from Ledbeter jarred the ball loose. Flom scooped up the ball before it rolled out of bounds, sprinting down the sidelines for the 55-yard score.
That put Somerset ahead 12-6 at halftime. Bloomer took the lead at 13-12 on a 19-yard pass to Nayes with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
Bloomer used an excellent kicking game to keep the Spartans pinned deep in their own territory. The one saving grace on special teams for the Spartans was Bushinger, who returned four punts for 76 yards, including a 46-yard return.
After Bloomer's first touchdown, a 5-yard run by Levi Nayes, the Spartans were pinned deep in their own end of the field. That continued into the fourth quarter, when the Spartans could only punt out to their own 41. Bloomer continued to try to pass against Somerset's secondary and it eventually burned the Blackhawks. Nayes and Flom both went up for a high pass from Bloomer quarterback Brett Stuckert. Nayes had his hands on the ball first, but Flom dug his hands in around the ball, pulling it out of Nayes' grasp. Flom then raced down the sideline for 59 yards, getting knocked out of bounds at the Bloomer 1. Ledbeter scored on a quarterback sneak on the next play, putting Somerset in front 18-13.
Ledbeter has gained most attention for his work at quarterback this season, but his defensive plays in Friday's game were crucial. Bloomer tried a fake punt late in the game, but Ledbeter read the play and stopped the receiver before he could get a first down. In the final plays of the game, Bloomer tried a deep pass to the end zone, but Ledbeter got in front of the receiver to knock the pass away.
Bloomer's last gasp was extinguished with 16 seconds left. Defensive lineman Jared Buchanan dropped back into coverage and intercepted a pass deep in Spartan territory. This is the fourth pass intercepted by a Spartan lineman this season.
Somerset coach Bruce Larson said it was fitting that Buchanan made the big play, saying Buchanan may be the most unheralded of the defensive starters. Larson credited Buchanan for being reliable all season.
The Spartan offense was led by halfback Haydon Dvorak and fullback Vern Breault. Dvorak carried seven times for 96 yards, including scoring the Spartans' first touchdown. Breault gained 75 yards before leaving in the third quarter with a sprained ankle. Larson said he hoped Breault would be healthy enough by Thursday to play against Wrightstown.
Dvorak's runs to the outside were the main source of yardage for the Spartans. On the touchdown he took a pitch from Ledbeter, followed a kickout block from Flom and skirted down the sidelines for 31 yards.
Larson raved about how Dvorak has developed into an aggressive ball carrier. He was equally as glowing in his praise of Dvorak's defense, talking about how he ranged from sideline to sideline to shut off Bloomer's perimeter running plays.
The Spartan defensive front had a huge game. Senior Derrek Tarter led the charge, making several plays in the backfield and creating a persistent pass rush. Coach Larson also complimented senior Trevor Schroeder for stepping in for an injured teammate and giving exceptional play on the defensive line.
Ready for Wrightstown
The Spartans carry the pride of western Wisconsin with them to state, after the rest of the area teams were eliminated in the semifinals over the weekend. Menomonie, Clayton and Eau Claire Regis all fell one step short of reaching state.
The Spartans don't want to fall one step short of their ultimate goal, winning a gold ball as state champions to match the trophy the team won in 2002.
Wrightstown presents a major challenge for the Spartans. The Tigers are 13-0 and have been ranked among the top teams in Division 4 all season. Wrightstown plays a hard-driving, straight-forward offense. The Tigers generally play out of a formation with two tight ends and three running backs.
Wrightstown has averaged 41.8 points per game this season while giving up 14.5. Somerset has averaged 34.6 points while allowing opponents 9.5 points per game.
Somerset 18, Bloomer 13
Blo -- Levi Nayes, 5 yard run (kick failed)
S -- Haydon Dvorak, 31 yard run (run failed)
S -- Robbie Flom, 55 yard fumble return (pass failed)
Blo -- Nayes, 30 yard pass from Brett Stuckert (Justin Young kick)
S -- Tyler Ledbeter, 1 yard run (run failed)
Somerset Rushing: Haydon Dvorak 7-96; Vern Breault 17-75; Max Praschak 5-27; Tyler Ledbeter 14-23; Robbie Flom 1-6; Robbie Lang 1-2
Somerset Passing: Tyler Ledbeter 0-2, 0 interceptions; Haydon Dvorak 0-2, 0 interceptions
Somerset Receiving: None