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Football: Spartans have no more room for errors

Somerset fullback Jack Peterson (center) breaks into the open field to gain some of his 203 yards during Friday's game at Ellsworth. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia

New Richmond. Amery. Baldwin-Woodville. St. Croix Central.

The Somerset football team needs to win its final four games of the season to qualify for the WIAA state playoffs and the four teams listed above are the obstacles in the remaining weeks of the regular season.

The Spartans dropped to 0-5 for the season on Friday, Sept. 15 with a 40-20 loss at Ellsworth. Somerset led the game 20-19 at the end of the third quarter, before Ellsworth scored three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Friday's loss was a microcosm of what has plagued the Spartans all season. They did some things well. The Spartans ran the ball better than Ellsworth and Somerset's run defense had a good showing.

Ellsworth held a major edge in the passing game, offensively and defensively, in Friday's game and special teams weighed in Ellsworth's favor.

The first half of Friday's game ended 7-0 in Ellsworth's favor, with the only score of the half coming after a Somerset turnover.

Mistakes on special teams have allowed opponents to return three kickoffs for touchdowns in the past five games. Ellsworth's Logan Melstrom may be the best kickoff returner in the MBC. Despite instructions not to kick to Melstrom, the second half kickoff sailed right down the hashmark to Melstrom. And he returned it directly back up the hashmark for a 95-yard touchdown.

To Somerset's credit, the Spartans came right back to take the lead. Ryan Kelly returned the ensuing kickoff to the Ellsworth 31. The Spartans quickly cashed in the opportunity, with Tanner Miller making a pretty catch of a Bennett Baillargeon throw to score a 32-yard touchdown.

Ellsworth then fumbled the kickoff, with the Spartans recovering. The Spartans quickly moved inside the Ellsworth 10. Baillargeon then hit Dylan Sayers with a pop pass for the 6-yard touchdown. Preston Anez ran for the two-point conversion, putting Somerset ahead, 14-13.

Ellsworth intercepted a pass to end Somerset's next possession. The Panthers then used a trick play to regain the lead. Halfback Ryan McGregor took a pitchout and launched a pass to Logan Benson who was far behind the Somerset secondary for a 60-yard touchdown.

Ellsworth then tried an onside kick, but the Spartans were ready, covering the ball at midfield. That led to a flurry of carries by Somerset fullback Jack Peterson. The flurry ended when the Spartan line opened a nice hole and Peterson charged through for a 27-yard score, putting Somerset ahead 20-19 with 2:37 left in the third quarter.

Ellsworth took the lead with a 36-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Panthers added another touchdown pass midway through the period, then scored the capping touchdown with 2:22 left in the game.

Somerset coach Bruce Larson said there was progress shown in this game, particularly by the team's run defense. The run game also performed solidly, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. But he pointed out many of the mistakes that the Spartans have been making since the beginning of the season, and that they continue to make the same mistakes.

"Pitching off the read key, running into numbers, not staying on blocks," Larson listed as some of the continuing errors, along with the team's high number of penalties.

There isn't any leeway for the Spartans to continue making these mistakes. They host New Richmond this Friday. While this is a rivalry game, the Spartans will need to clean up their mistakes to be competitive against the Tigers.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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