Strong halfback play makes Somerset football team whole
The offense of the Somerset football team has been making sharp improvements on a weekly basis by getting diversity in its attack.
The Spartans won the battle for second place in the Middle Border Conference last Friday, defeating Durand 38-19 in the regular season finale for both teams.
Somerset received the second seed in the area Division 4 regional tournament bracket in the seeding meeting that was held on Saturday. The Spartans will open the WIAA tournament action this Friday by hosting Northland Pines at 7 p.m. Northland Pines is the seventh seed in the tournament bracket.
Spartan head coach Bruce Larson said the team is in a good place heading into the playoffs after getting a stout challenge from Durand on Friday. Durand jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter before the Spartans made defensive changes that walled off Durand’s outside running game.
The Somerset offense had been making strides in its previous three games, but they were against teams from the bottom half of the conference standings. The offense continued to show its progress against Durand, a team that defeated the Spartans last year and is highly respected by the Somerset coaching staff.
“That was a game we needed, no matter how it went,” Larson said. “That was a really good indication of where we’re at.”
The coaches couldn’t have asked for better balance from the Spartan offense. The halfbacks combined for 115 yards rushing and fullback Max Praschak rushed for 97 yards. Quarterback Adam Marty continued to make rapid improvement, rushing for 91 yards and completing two touchdown passes to tight end Tyler Lueck.
“Offensively, if you could write a perfect script for us, that would be pretty close,” Larson said.
Having a full season at quarterback has helped Marty to recognize what opposing defenses are trying to do, so he can make quicker adjustments.
“He’s seeing the possibilities,” Larson said. “When you do that, you gain confidence.”
Somerset drove 60 yards for its first touchdown of the game, with runs of 16 and 14 yards by Marty the big plays in the drive. Durand had played flawlessly until its next possession. Spartan defensive end Gaelin Elmore got a sack on third down. Durand had a bad snap on the punt, with Somerset taking over on the Panther 20. That led to the first of Lueck’s touchdowns, on a fourth down fake that left Lueck uncovered in the corner of the end zone.
Somerset drove to the Durand 1-yard line on the opening possession of the second half before fumbling the ball away. When the Spartans got the ball back, they struck quickly, with Marty finding Lueck for a 39-yard score.
Larson said Lueck has emerged in several aspects recently. Elmore receives a great deal of attention as one of the tight ends, but the Spartans have shown they are fully comfortable in passing to Lueck when opponents focus their coverage on Elmore. Lueck has also been a beast on special teams, delivering several crushing blows on the Spartans’ kick coverage.
“His special teams contribution is huge,” Larson said.
Praschak’s ground contributions were limited until he ran 59 yards to set up the Spartans’ final touchdown. Last year, Durand ran a specialized defense to take the Spartan fullback out of the ground attack.
“Our fullback ended up being a blocker,” Larson explained. “We worked on (the offensive adjustment) for 11 weeks to run it one night.”
The Spartans began getting healthier in this game with Aaron Moore, Colton Brown, Austin Harty and David Richard returning from injuries. Several Spartans got valuable experience filling in. Larson said senior offensive lineman Henry Francis was an example of the players who stepped in and were pleasant surprises with their effectiveness.
“Henry has done a really good job for us,” Larson said.
The Spartans face a Northland Pines team that is a question mark. The Eagles play in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference against Michigan schools. Last year, Northland Pines came into the playoffs with an 8-0 record but the Eagles were knocked off by St. Croix Central 34-20 in the opening round of the playoffs. Northland Pines brings a 6-3 record into this year’s playoffs.