Somerset stuns B-W, gets share of MBC title
The championships have become a tradition for the Somerset football team.
The Spartans earned their fifth Middle Border Conference championship in the past six years when they upended previously unbeaten Baldwin-Woodville by a 22-14 score last Thursday.
A conference championship appeared to be a remote possibility when the Spartans started the season with three losses. Under the team's veteran coaching staff, the Spartans abruptly and completely turned their season around. The win over B-W was the sixth straight for the Spartans since the 0-3 start.
By beating B-W the Spartans were a seedable team for the WIAA football playoffs. That earned them a home game on Tuesday against St. Croix Central in the opening round of the Division 4 playoffs. The winner of Tuesday's game will be back in action this Saturday, facing the winner of the game between Baldwin-Woodville and Altoona.
Baldwin-Woodville came into last Thursday's game having wreaked havoc on all its MBC opponents. It was the Spartans that delivered two powerful blows early in Thursday's game that staggered the Blackhawks.
The Spartans scored less than two minutes into the game. The big play of the opening drive was a 53-yard run by sophomore halfback Dylan Rivard on the option. That set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Rocky Larson for the score.
Early in the second quarter the Spartans struck again. The Spartans drove 88 yards for the score. The touchdown came on a 15-yard pass from Larson to tight end Jordan Hansen. It was a play the Spartans hadn't used all season, but had practiced it throughout the season.
"Sometimes you just put it in your pocket and save it for when you need it," Somerset coach Bruce Larson said about the play call.
B-W was able to get one score on the board in the second quarter, cutting Somerset's lead to 16-8.
The Spartans had a chance to add some cushion to the lead early in the third quarter, but they fumbled the ball away at the B-W 5-yard line.
In the opening moments of the fourth quarter the Blackhawks scored again, on a 17-yard run by sophomore Jake Keefer. The Spartans were able to stop B-W's two-point conversion attempt, preserving a 16-14 Spartan lead.
The improving special teams play then provided a big lift for the Spartans. After the B-W touchdown, Zach Warren returned the kickoff all the way to the B-W 28-yard line. Several plays later, sophomore fullback Eric Walczak charged into the end zone for the score, putting the Spartans ahead 22-14.
The next B-W possession was stopped by an excellent individual effort by Spartan safety Luke Buerkley. The Blackhawks tried a pass to the sideline, with Buerkley leaping high to tip the pass. As he was falling to the ground Buerkley was able to catch the ball for the interception.
The Spartans then drove the ball to the Blackhawk 1-yard line before turning the ball back on downs with 40 seconds left in the game. The Blackhawks were able to move the ball out to their 44-yard line before the clock ran out. The last two B-W plays were both ended by Spartan defensive end Robbie Wendt. He sacked the quarterback on the first play, then knocked down a pass on the final play of the game.
The Spartan defense gave a huge performance in Thursday's win. B-W had been able to run at will against most of its opponents this season. The Spartans held B-W to 108 yards on the ground on 27 carries.
Penalties were a big factor in this game, with the Spartans showing better discipline. The Spartans had 15 yards in penalties, while the Blackhawks took 80 yards in penalties.
Coach Larson said that the Spartans set a list of goals at the beginning of the season, headed by winning the conference again this year. He said that even after the 0-3 start, the players never gave up on that goal of continuing the tradition of Spartan championship teams.
"The leaders of our team, and there's quite a few, weren't going to let it fall apart," Larson said about the team's 0-3 start. "No matter how bleak it looked, our leadership would not let that happen."
Larson said the conference championship was the first half of the team's goals. He pointed that the players quickly shifted their collective focus to the second half of the season's goals, which had to do with success in the playoffs.
"We still haven't played our best game yet," Larson said. "We're capable of playing better and we will need to."