Somerset football derails Spooner, advances to Friday's showdown with St. Croix Central
If you think Spooner taking an 8-0 lead and possessing the ball most of the first quarter would unnerve the Somerset football coaching staff, you haven't watched the Spartans much over the past decade.
Spooner might have controlled the action in the first few minutes, but Somerset dominated from there, rolling past the Rails 34-8 in Level 2 of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs at Spooner on Saturday.
The win puts the Spartans back on their home turf for their Level 3 game this Friday against undefeated St. Croix Central. The game will be played at 7 p.m. at Somerset's Seibel Field.
Central will provide a steep challenge for the Spartans. The Panthers will be the fastest opponent the Spartans have faced. In comparing scores, the game looks like a tossup. Somerset defeated Durand 22-15 in the final round of Middle Border Conference play. Central knocked Durand out of the playoffs on Saturday, 30-22.
Somerset coach Bruce Larson said the team's track record shows that the Spartans can handle the pressure of the playoffs. The Spartans are 27-9 in their 36 playoff games since Larson became coach.
"I'd like to think we have a pretty good handle on how to handle playoff games," Larson said.
The ability to handle the pressure of the playoffs showed at Spooner on Saturday. Spooner came out with guns blazing. The Rails gained 113 yards in their three possessions in the first quarter. By the end of the quarter the Spartans made defensive adjustments and Spooner was held to 166 total yards in the game.
A couple key defensive efforts in the first quarter kept this a one-score game. Spooner drove the length of the field on its first possession. The Rails tried to get cute on fourth down from the Spartan 13, trying a pass play off a double reverse. Spartan safety Robbie Flom wasn't fooled, stepping in front of the Spooner receiver for an interception in the end zone.
The first Somerset offensive possession went nowhere. The second possession was even worse. Quarterback Tyler Ledbeter tried to move down the line on an option play. The Spartans missed a downblock on the Spooner safety, who clobbered Ledbeter, forcing a fumble. Somerset's Haydon Dvorak dove on the ball in the end zone, so Spooner was awarded a safety.
Spooner took the ensuing kickoff and drove 49 yards for the score. An extra point would have given Spooner a two-score lead, but Somerset lineman Derrick Berry drove through the Spooner blockers to block the extra point kick, leaving the lead at 8-0.
Somerset's offense needed two possessions to figure out what Spooner was doing on defense, because the Rails used a defense they hadn't utilized all season. By the third possession, the Spartan offense got things figured out.
What was available to the Spartan offense was the fullback dive and the Spartans pounded fullback Vern Breault into the heart of the Spooner defense, with continued success. The Spartans opened the second quarter with a-10 play drive. Breault scored from two yards out and his two-point conversion tied the game.
The Spartans defense forced a quick punt and the offense went to work again. Breault carried nearly every play to get the ball to the Spooner 16. Ledbeter then faked a handoff to Breault, who was engulfed by Spooner defenders. Ledbeter had an easy run to the end zone for the 16-yard score that put Somerset in front 14-8.
Spooner tried a long field goal at the end of the first half and it nearly blew up in the Rails' faces. Berry broke through the Spooner front wall, blocking the kick with his chest. Flom alertly scooped up the ball. He nearly scored, with a Spooner defender making a diving tackle to bring him down two yards short of the goal line.
Flom may have been stopped there, but the Rails couldn't stop him on the opening kickoff of the second half. Flom caught the kickoff in the center of the field, cut to the Spooner sideline and left a line of maroon-clad Rails chasing him to the end zone. His 90-yard score crushed any thoughts Spooner had of making a comeback.
"Rob's had great games all year," Larson said. "I think he's one of the most underrated players in the area."
The Spartans added a third quarter score by Ledbeter and another by Breault in the fourth quarter.
Breault's value to the Spartans was reflected in how often he carried the ball on Saturday. When Somerset has gone deep into the playoffs in past years, it has been the fullbacks who carried the ball most often. On Saturday Breault carried the ball on 29 of the Spartans 49 offensive plays. He finished the game with 106 yards rushing.
The Spartan defense stood out in shutting down Spooner's pass attack in the final three quarters of the game. With Flom at safety and Ledbeter and Ryan Himes at cornerback, the Spartans used their size and physical play to mess up the timing of the Spooner passing game. That may have served the Spartans well. When they face Central on Friday, they will face one of the best air attacks in the western half of the state.
Larson said the defense will have to be ready for the challenge.
"They're fast. We don't have anybody who can run like that," Larson said of Central's offensive threats.
Larson said everyone notices Central's offense, but said the Panthers defense is just as strong. With linemen Marcus Malacek and Jake Bonte, linebackers Mike Nelson and Lauden Wood and safeties Cody Nyhagen and Carl Moll, he said Central's defense is stacked up the middle.
Larson said the coaches are telling the players not to listen to the hype surrounding the game.
"We need to take care of what we can. We have a pretty good idea of how good they are and how good we'll have to play to have a chance," Larson said.