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Somerset football opens 2012 playoffs on Friday

One of the biggest changes for the Somerset football team this year has been the kicking of senior Luke Praschak. Here Praschak boots one of his five successful extra points during the Spartans' 35-7 win over Osceola last Friday.

When was the last time the Somerset football team was held without a rushing touchdown in a win?

And when was the last time the Spartan defense outscored the offense?

Both those circumstances happened last Friday, making for one of the more unorthodox wins by the Spartans in many years. Despite a slow start, the Spartans were able to overcome the Osceola Chieftains 35-7 on Friday. The win leaves the Spartans alone in second place in the Middle Border Conference final standings with a 6-1 record, one game behind Durand. This ends a five-year run of MBC titles for the Spartans.

On Saturday the Spartans were awarded with the top seed in the Division 4 sectional football tournament bracket. By receiving the top seed, the Spartans can host the first three rounds of the playoffs if they continue winning games. The Spartans' first playoff assignment comes this Friday, when they host Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau at 7 p.m. G-E-T finished the regular season with a 4-4 record, tying for fourth place in the Coulee Conference. The Red Hawks started the season 3-0 but have won just once since then.

The Somerset defense had to rise to the occasion repeatedly in Friday's win over Osceola. While the Spartan offense fumbled the ball away three times, including in its first two possessions, the defense was able to keep the damage to a minimum. Osceola scored after the second of those turnovers, on a 28-yard fade pass to the corner of the end zone.

Defending Osceola's tall receivers on fade routes was a concern for the Spartans all evening. The Spartans were able to neutralize the Chieftains' passing game with an explosive pass rush.

The second of the Spartans' defensive touchdowns was the direct result of the pass rush. Linebacker Max Praschak came through clean on a blitz, delivering a bone-jarring hit to the ribs of the Osceola quarterback as he was releasing the ball. The ball fluttered into the air and Spartan lineman Derrick Berry hustled to catch the ball, rumbling 26 yards for the score that put Somerset ahead 14-7 with 7:18 left in the second quarter.

Berry's score came a minute after the defense had scored Somerset's first touchdown. Osceola's quarterback was trying to fight for extra yardage. Several Spartans were wrestling with him, when Somerset's Tyler Ledbeter was able to pull the ball free, racing 45 yards down the Spartan sideline for the first Somerset score.

Another turnover set up the third Somerset touchdown of the second quarter. Ledbeter intercepted a badly overthrown pass at the Spartan 36. The Spartans put together their first consistent drive of the night, based mainly on blasts by fullback Vern Breault into the teeth of the Osceola defense. The Spartans were able to score when they faked a dive to Breault into the line. Receiver Luke Praschak had lined up as an edge blocker, but drifted out uncovered to catch the 5-yard touchdown pass from Ledbeter that put the Spartans ahead 21-7 with 2:21 left in the half.

In the second half the Spartan offense was able to control the action much more effectively. The Spartans opened the half with an 85-yard drive that was capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ledbeter to Gaelin Elmore.

Somerset's defense notched its third score of the night on Osceola's next possession. Defensive end Shane Miller dropped into pass coverage and picked off a pass, returning it 65 yards for the final score of the game.

The Spartans had another late drive that reached the Osceola 3 before the reserves fumbled the ball back to the Chieftains.

The fumbles are becoming more and more of a concern for the Spartan coaches.

"We turn the ball over like it's no big deal," said Somerset coach Bruce Larson.