Somerset Spartans 'finish it,' win WIAA Division 4 football state championship!
After feeling the overwhelming agony of a state championship game defeat a year ago, the Somerset football team experienced the all-healing exhilaration of winning the state championship.
The Spartans were able to raise the "gold ball" trophy given to the state champions after defeating Big Foot 35-33 in overtime in the WIAA Division 4 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium last Thursday.
The mantra since the double-overtime loss in last year's state championship game was "finish it," with signs all over the high school reminding the players of that goal. The Spartans didn't need the reminders. They played with exceptional passion and focus, which carried into the overtime period.
Somerset got the ball first in the overtime, with battering ram fullback Vern Breault covering the first 20 yards of the drive. The final five yards were covered by quarterback Tyler Ledbeter, who scored his third touchdown of the night.
Last year, the Spartans couldn't get the two-point conversion on their overtime score, which ultimately decided the game. This year, Ledbeter pitched the ball to halfback Bobby LeRoy, who went untouched around left end for the two points.
Big Foot then got its chance and state Player of the Year Mason Dixon quickly converted, scoring on a 19-yard touchdown. Big Foot then elected to try a pass play for the two-point try. The pass to the edge of the end zone glanced off the receiver's hands, locking up the second football state championship in Somerset history. The Spartans were also state champions in 2002.
Ledbeter and Breault led the Spartans in game that was packed with drama. Ledbeter was battling illness all day and grew weaker with each play. For much of the second half and the overtime, the Spartans didn't have Ledbeter playing defense, letting him conserve his energy. Somerset coach Bruce Larson said the reason the Spartans went for the two-point conversion on the overtime touchdown was because he didn't think Ledbeter had the energy left to make it through another overtime period.
Ledbeter came up with big play after big play in the game. He scored on touchdown runs of 46 and 51 yards in the first half. The second of those touchdowns may have been the most spectacular of his career, a weaving effort where he broke several tackles and made several sharp cuts.
Ledbeter's 51-yard score may be the perfect example of why Somerset is a state champion. On the first half of the run, Ledbeter broke four tackles. He then cut back across the grain, where a swarm of Spartans had raced downfield to supply blocks that made it possible for him to reach the end zone.
"Those were some absolutely huge blocks," Larson said. "This group of kids are hustlers. They play until the whistle blows."
Another of Ledbeter's key offensive plays was a fourth down touchdown pass of 13 yards to tight end Gaelin Elmore, who leaped between two defenders to pull down the second quarter touchdown that put Somerset ahead 14-6.
Ledbeter also came up with two fumble recoveries, both with immense importance. On the first play of the overtime, Breault fumbled, but Ledbeter dove in to cover the ball. Ledbeter also produced the only turnover of the game. Somerset defensive end Reggie Larson sacked Big Foot quarterback Carter Hehr, forcing a fumble. Ledbeter recovered at the Big Foot 9-yard line, setting up a Breault touchdown that gave Somerset a 27-20 lead.
Somerset was able to control the clock in the game, using the running of Breault and Ledbeter to prolong extended drives. With Ledbeter ill, Breault became even more of a focal point for the Spartan offense in the latter stages of the game. He carried the ball 42 times, gaining 205 yards.
"Vern really cranked it up," Larson said.
Ledbeter finished the game with 159 yards rushing on 15 carries. Dixon led Big Foot with 166 yards rushing on 24 carries.
This was the second straight game that Somerset faced one of the state's top individual players. Dixon was named as the WSN Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch Award winner, given to the top running back in the state. He was also named the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Player of the Year. The previous week the Spartans shut down Black River Falls receiver Jordan Millis, who won the WSN Al Toon Award, given to the top receiver in the state.
Larson said the Spartans had no reason to make any changes on defense to prepare for Big Foot, playing the same style of defense that has shined so brightly all season to deal with Dixon.
"Our defense is what got us here," Larson said. "Our defense was great all year."
The Spartan defense was at its best on a defensive stand in the second quarter when Big Foot had three chances to score from near the Spartan goal line. Each time, the Spartan defense was able to stuff the Big Foot blocking and stop Dixon short of the goal line.
The coaches never reminded the players about last year's state title game loss, knowing that it already weighed heavily on their minds. The coaches spoke about looking ahead and rising to the challenge.
"We said before the game, this would be their finest hour. It really came together. Every kid, at some point, had an impact that made a difference in the game," Larson said.
Ironically, in both seasons that Somerset won its state championships, it did not win its conference title. The Spartans also finished second in the Middle Border Conference when they won the program's first state championship in 2002. Larson said there was another striking similarity between the state championship teams.
"In 2002 we played five playoff games and didn't turn the ball over and we did the same this year," Larson said.
Somerset is one of two St. Croix County teams that are state champions. Glenwood City, which won the Division 7 championship game over Potosi 46-21, tied for second place in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference.