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Somerset football team shows it's playoff ready

Somerset sophomore Cody Penman (43) got a chance to carry the ball late in the playoff victory over GET.1 / 2
Photo by Dave Newman Sophomore Max Praschak (29) was shifted to halfback last week, the fifth position he's played for the Spartans this season.2 / 2

It seems the WIAA playoffs bring out the best in the Somerset football team.

The Spartans played their sharpest, most mistake-free game of the season in their WIAA Division 4 playoff opener on Friday, muzzling Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau 27-0.

The top-seeded Spartans will play at home again this Friday. The Spartans will host Bloomer, the fourth seed, at 7 p.m. The last game Bloomer played at Somerset produced one of the more memorable clashes on the Spartans' turf in many years. Somerset needed five overtimes to finally defeat Bloomer 20-14 in the second game of the 2011 season.

Friday's game will be the seventh time Somerset and Bloomer have played in the past four years. They also met in the playoffs last year, with Somerset winning 18-13 to advance to the state championship game.

Wrightstown, the team that defeated Somerset in last year's Division 4 state championship game, was one of the numerous upset victims in the first round of the state playoffs last weekend. Wrightstown, a third seed, was upset by Sturgeon Bay 21-7 last Friday.

Any worries about Somerset being upset were wiped out by the Somerset defense, which recorded its fourth home-field shutout of the season on Friday. The Spartans have surrendered seven points in their five home games this season.

Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau came into Friday's game with an offense that has put up some impressive numbers this season. The Spartans shut down GET with some bone-rattling hitting.

"We were really physical on both sides of the ball," said Somerset coach Bruce Larson. "Our defense has played incredibly well all year."

Two of the Spartans who stood out on defense Friday were seniors Robbie Lang and Bobby LeRoy. Lang broke his wrist in the Spartans' final regular season game against Osceola. Lang got the wrist stabilized and wore a large pad around the wrist and hand, but was able to play the entire game at his cornerback position.

GET targeted LeRoy because of his smaller size. LeRoy proved again that he's a highly capable linebacker, intercepting one GET pass and knocking down three others.

"Bobby played great. He's done a great job all season," Larson said. "He plays with a lot of passion."

The Spartans limited GET to 144 yards of offense, 91 on the ground and 53 through the air. Somerset's offense was able to generate 333 yards, all on the ground.

The Spartan offensive line was able to create creases in the interior of the GET defense. Fullback Vern Breault and quarterback Tyler Ledbeter took full advantage, combining for more than 300 yards. Breault gained 200 yards on 20 carries, while Ledbeter finished with 105 yards on 13 tries.

Ledbeter scored Somerset's first touchdown, less than four minutes into the game. Ledbeter ran into congestion at the line, but the linemen kept driving and Ledbeter was able to shoot through an opening for the 40-yard run.

GET responded with its best drive of the night, utilizing leading rusher Erik Van Vleet in a number of ways. Van Vleet is a quick, talented back, but he took a merciless pounding from the Spartan defense. GET drove to the Spartan 5-yard line, but the Somerset defense came up with another goal line stand to prevent the Red Hawks from scoring.

The teams exchanged several punts before the Spartans could get another drive rolling late in the second quarter. A 72-yard run by Breault took the ball inside the GET 10. A few moments later Breault dove into the end zone, giving Somerset a 14-0 lead with 1:46 left in the half.

GET tried an onside kick to start the second half, but Somerset's Dallas Johnson recovered. Runs by Ledbeter and Breault set up Ledbeter's second score, a 19-yard dart through a hole created by the right side of the offensive line.

Breault did the bulk of the damage in Somerset's final scoring drive. The Spartans drove 81 yards, with runs of 26 and 48 yards by Breault getting the Spartans into scoring position. Ledbeter capped the drive, scoring on a seven-yard keeper around end for his third touchdown of the night.

The Spartans did not turn the ball over during the game and they were called for just two penalties. Those two areas have been the team's biggest obstacles this season. Larson said the Spartans will need to continue that trend to overcome Bloomer. The Blackhawks have won five straight games, causing Larson to say that Bloomer is nothing like the team the Spartans beat 24-13 in the opening game of the season.

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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