Somerset football team fends off determined New Richmond squad 28-7
The final score of last Friday's Somerset-New Richmond football game might not have been reflected in the reactions of the teams following the game.
Somerset won the game 28-7, raising the Spartans season record to 4-0. Despite the win, the Spartans were quiet and subdued over their performance.
The Tigers dropped to 0-4 for the season, but the Tigers were markedly upbeat over what was perceived by the team as its strongest showing of the season.
By Somerset's standards, the Spartans did not play their sharpest game. They committed a number of penalties and their offensive execution sometimes faltered. New Richmond played a defense that was slanted to take away Somerset's inside running game.
"They blitzed repeatedly. We didn't handle that as well as we needed to," said Somerset coach Bruce Larson.
By the fourth quarter the Spartans decided to take what the Tigers were giving. Every play on Somerset's final touchdown drive was a sweep by the halfbacks, primarily senior Gabe Flandrick. Flandrick finished with a career-high 122 rushing yards on 13 carries.
"We're not bad at (running outside) at all, but you'd like to be able to run more than one play," Larson said.
New Richmond's defense produced an inspired effort, but the Tiger offense and special teams kept putting the defense in difficult situations. Punting was an unadulterated disaster for the Tigers. The Tigers' first punt was shanked, leaving the Spartans just 28 yards to drive for their second touchdown.
The Tigers' second punt resulted in a safety on the first play of the second quarter, extending Somerset's lead to 14-0. The snap was low and couldn't be handled, forcing punter Zac Parfitt to run out of the back of the end zone.
The third Tiger punt was successful. The final Tiger punt was a nightmare. The low punt went directly into the onrushing Spartans, striking lineman Reggie Larson in the helmet. The ball careened back downfield, where it was covered at the Tiger 24. It set up Somerset's third touchdown, a 5-yard blast by fullback Vern Breault with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
That score was answered by the Tigers' best drive of the season. The Tigers marched 80 yards, controlling the ball with a mix of passes and perimeter running plays. The Tigers capped the drive on two passes between quarterback Kaleb Kier and receiver Drew Durham. The first pass gave the Tigers a first down on a fourth down and long situation. On the very next play, Kier lofted another perfectly placed pass, with Durham getting behind the Somerset coverage for a 14-yard touchdown.
"Kaleb threw those two fades exactly where they needed to be," said Tiger coach Jason Eckert.
The Tigers were as excited and motivated in the second half of Friday's game as they've been for any game in the past two seasons. Eckert said he made a brief but blunt speech to the team at halftime that hit home with the players.
"I said our offense and special teams performances are not acceptable. We're not going to keep going backward," Eckert said.
The Tigers held Somerset to 294 total yards of offense, which the Tigers viewed as a success. The key to the Tiger defense was senior Abe Anderson, who was playing middle linebacker. Anderson's job on each play was to shoot the gap between the center and guard, trying to disrupt Somerset's quarterback-fullback ground attack. The rest of the defensive front took sharp inward slants to break down Somerset's interior blocking.
Among the players praised by the Tiger coaches for their part in the success of the defense were Parfitt, Jake LaMirande and Keilan Mehls.
Eckert said the focus for the Tigers is to play the rest of the season with the intensity they showed in Friday's game. The Tigers have four games remaining and they will need to win them all to qualify for the WIAA playoffs. The first of those games is this Friday, when the Tigers play at Ellsworth in the Panthers' Homecoming game.
Somerset needs one more win to secure its place in the 2012 WIAA playoff field. The Spartans play at home this Friday against Amery. The Spartans are looking to build and improve in each game as they try to achieve the long-term goals set for the season.
The Spartans view last Friday's defensive effort as something they can build upon. The Spartans limited New Richmond to 120 yards of total offense. Other than one long kick return late in the game, the Spartan special teams also put together a strong performance.
Somerset's line was able to put together a strong showing on Friday despite missing one of its two-way starters. Senior Alex Piletich did not play at all on offense and he played very little on defense in Friday's game. Senior Riley Paulus stepped in to fill both of Piletich's roles for the game.
"Riley did a pretty darn good job of fitting in," Coach Larson said.
What concerned the Somerset coaches most from Friday's game was the intensity level at which the Spartans played at most of the night.
"New Richmond came to play and they played hard. It looked like we went through the motions," Larson said.