Somerset wins first MBC football title; Loss knocks Tigers out of playoff hunt
For the Somerset football team it was a monumental victory and a huge dose of revenge wrapped up in one package.
For the New Richmond football team it was a crushing dose of humble pie that ended the Tigers' hopes of advancing into the 2003 WIAA football playoffs.
Somerset scored twice in a 28-second span in the final minute of the first half to break open last Thursday's game over New Richmond. With the 36-12 win, Somerset locks up its first Middle Border Conference championship, in its second year in the MBC.
For New Richmond, the loss ends a season filled with turmoil.
This game was closer than the final score might indicate. The Tigers outgained Somerset 257-239 in the game. Two turnovers in the first half were the root of the Tigers' problems.
Somerset opened the game with a 65-yard drive. Senior halfback Shawn Walczak took a pitch and ran 5 yards for the touchdown.
On New Richmond's first drive the Tigers drove into Somerset territory, facing a fourth down, needing one foot. The Somerset defense came up with a huge push, stopping the Tigers three inches short to end the Tiger threat.
On the first play of the second quarter, Somerset linebacker Tom Hennessey put a huge hit on Tiger fullback Tommy Wells, forcing a fumble that the Spartans recovered at the Tiger 20. Two plays later, Somerset halfback Jeff Klis took a pitch and darted down the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown.
In their opening possessions the Tigers struggled to move the ball on the ground. On their next possession the Tigers turned to the passing game and it produced a scoring drive. Quarterback Garret Fletch hit Scott Emerson and Tim Kretovics with passes to keep the drive moving. Fletch scrambled on a fourth down play to give the Tigers another first down at the Somerset 15. The Tigers then used a bit of trickery, with Danny Wells throwing the halfback option pass to Emerson for a 10-yard touchdown with 3:27 left in the half.
With the score 14-6 near halftime, it looked as if this game might become a classic. In those final three minutes of the half, the Spartans put the game out of reach.
Walczak gave the Spartans great field position by returning the ensuing kickoff to the 44. The Spartans then used several running plays, battering Hennessey into the middle of the Tiger defense. That had the Tigers looking run in a short-yardage situation and the Spartans caught them off-guard. Walczak was wide open behind the Tiger defense and quarterback Jake Rorabeck hit him for a 31-yard scoring pass with 55 seconds left in the half.
When the Tigers got the ball back, coach Jeff Albarado had to decide whether to try to score or run out the clock.
"I'm conservative by nature," Albarado said. "But I knew there weren't going to be many possessions in the second half."
So the Tigers went for it. On their first play, Fletch completed an 11-yard pass to Emerson. The next play put the Tigers' lights out. Fletch threw the ball over the middle, but Raleigh sprang in front of the Tiger receiver to catch the ball. Raleigh then took off, veering toward the Tiger sideline. He was tackled 55 yards later, at the Somerset 2. On the next play Hennessey bashed his way into the end zone, and 28 seconds after making the score 22-6, the Spartans were in the end zone again.
In the third quarter the Tigers tried getting back into the game. They were stopped on downs at the Somerset 38 on their first possession. After a Steve Volkert fumble recovery, the Tigers tried again. First down passes to Emerson and David Koch got the Tigers close and Fletch sealed the drive with a 1-yard sneak with 2:56 left in the third quarter.
Whenever teams have threatened a Somerset lead this season, the Spartans have been able to use ball control to put the game away. That happened again here. The Spartans held the ball for more than nine and a half minutes, marching 68 yards for the score.
Both coaches said Somerset's ability to stop New Richmond's running game was a key aspect of the game. Somerset's play in the defensive front was led by Ambrose Martell, who had several tackles in the backfield. Somerset coach Bruce Larson said defensive ends Brock Schreiner and Mike Wishard prevented the Tigers from running outside.
"And (linebacker) Andy Hecht played probably his best game," Larson said.
Albarado said this game was the secondary story of success for Somerset, saying the Spartans' off-season work is the real story.
"They worked very hard in the offense, they earned this. They started earning it last December," Albarado said.
Somerset 36, New Richmond 12
New Richmond 0 6 6 0 12
Somerset 6 22 0 8 36
Som -- Shawn Walczak, 5 yard run (kick failed)
Som -- Jeff Klis, 21 yard run (Walczak run)
NR -- Scott Emerson 10 yard pass from Dan Wells (kick failed)
Som -- Walczak, 31 yard pass from Jake Rorabeck (Tom Hennessey run)
Som -- Hennessey, 2 yard run (run failed)
NR -- Garret Fletch, 1 yard run (pass failed)
Som -- Rorabeck, 2 yard run (Walczak run)
First Downs 12 14
Rushing Yards 208 108
Passing Yards 31 149
Passes 1-2-0 int. 14-21-1 int.
Penalties 3-25 4-28
Som -- Tom Hennessey 19-103, Shawn Walczak 2-10, Jake Rorabeck 15-59, Jeff Klis 5-36
NR -- Dan Wells 18-66, Garret Fletch 12-29, Scott Emerson 2-11, Tom Wells 4-4, David Koch 1-(-2)
Som -- Jake Rorabeck 1-2-0 int., 31 yards
NR -- Garret Fletch 13-20-1 int., 139 yards; Dan Wells 1-1-0 int., 10 yards
Som -- Shawn Walczak 1-31
NR -- Scott Emerson 6-60, Tim Kretovics 2-33, Dan Wells 2-11, David Koch 1-20, Jordan Frye 1-13, Robert Rice 1-7, Alex Chilsen 1-5