Somerset football bottles up Ellsworth, 32-0
The Ellsworth Panthers were expected to be one Somerset's toughest competitors in the Middle Border Conference title chase this season.
Ellsworth found it wasn't ready to run with the Spartans, with Somerset delivering a 32-0 setback for Ellsworth's first loss of the season.
Somerset, now 3-0, has outscored opponents 100-31 in its first three games. The Spartans are 2-0 in the MBC and they will try to add a third conference win when they play at New Richmond at 7 p.m. this Friday.
Somerset led 18-0 at halftime against Ellsworth last Friday, but the first half was actually a rugged battle that hinged upon three big efforts from the Somerset defense.
Ellsworth got the ball on the opening possession of the game and Somerset quickly forced a punt. Somerset fumbled the punt, giving Ellsworth the ball at the Spartan 32. The Spartan defense held and soon Somerset's offense was marching down the field. The Spartans mixed runs from fullback Vern Breault and halfbacks Gabe Flandrick and Mitch McConaughey to cover the 78 yards quickly, with Breault scoring on a 2-yard run with 2:49 left in the opening quarter.
Ellsworth has a potent running game and that showed in the next series when the Panthers drove down to the Somerset 5-yard line. Again the Spartan defense got the stop, with linebacker Gaelin Elmore stuffing a quarterback scramble on fourth down.
The Spartans immediately turned around and drove the ball 92 yards for another touchdown. Quarterback Tyler Ledbeter carried the load on this drive, with runs of 13, 11, 10 and 23 yards during the march. Breault finished off the drive again, with a 10-yard blast up the gut with 2:30 left in the half.
Somerset's defense quickly forced another punt, giving the Spartans the ball at the Ellsworth 30 with less than a minute left in the half. Somerset moved the ball close when Luke Praschak gained 18 yards on a reverse.
The Spartans have been saving their passing game for the perfect time and there was no better time than the last play of the first half. Ledbeter floated a pass to the edge of the end zone, where Elmore leaped high above the Ellsworth defender to haul in the 8-yard touchdown pass. That score put the Spartans ahead 18-0 at halftime.
If Ellsworth had any hopes of making a comeback, the Spartans gashed those hopes on the opening possession of the second half. Flandrick broke outside, then cut all the way back across the field for a 55-yard run on the opening play of the half. Moments later, Breault barged into the end zone for his third touchdown. He did the same on the two-point conversion, making the lead 26-0.
Breault would finish the scoring in the fourth quarter when he broke free for a 35-yard touchdown.
The Spartans had two second half touchdowns called back because of penalties. Spartan coach Bruce Larson said the numerous penalties called against the team are mistakes that need to be corrected. He also was not pleased with the team's tackling, particularly in the second half of the game.
There were a number of areas where the Spartans did shine, particularly in the work of both lines. Ellsworth had no success running the ball between the tackles. The Spartan defensive line, led by Alex Piletich and Jared Buchanan, stuffed a number of running plays before they could reach the line. The offensive line opened holes wherever the Spartans wanted to run the ball.
Another area where the Spartans stood out was in pass defense. Ellsworth receiver Zac Campbell has agreed to be a preferred walk-on with the University of Wisconsin Badgers next season, but he's never had any luck against the Spartans. Last year Campbell was held without a catch and this year he caught two passes.
"Our defensive back play does not get the credit it deserves," Larson said. "We really bottled him up both years."
Larson said Ellsworth had won its first two games because the Panther offense could produce big plays in the passing game. With the work of the secondary and the pass rush, Ellsworth's passing attack was neutralized.
In viewing this Friday's game with New Richmond, the Spartan coaches aren't taking anything for granted. Two years ago, the Spartans went to New Richmond and were beaten 16-0.
"It's a dangerous game for us," Larson said. "They need something good to happen and we're in a position where we're ripe to be plucked. We need to do our jobs better."