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Somerset football reaches state semifinals, defeating St. Croix Central 49-14

Somerset linebacker Bobby LeRoy (21) leaps to deflect a pass intended for St. Croix Central's Dante Carlson (45) during Saturday's game.1 / 8
Somerset quarterback Tyler Ledbeter (31) breaks into the clear to score one of his four touchdowns in Saturday's 49-14 win.2 / 8
St. Croix Central receiver Tyler Lathe (14) lunges toward the goal line for a two-point conversion in the second quarter of Saturday's game.3 / 8
St. Croix Central receiver Cody Nyhagen (23) made an incredible juggling catch for the Panthers' first touchdown. Somerset defensive backs Tyler Ledbeter (31) and Mitch McConaughey (15) initially went up with Nyhagen to bat the ball into the air. Nyhagen kept his balance, hauling the ball in, despite a battle from Somerset's Shane Miller (55).4 / 8
Somerset senior Robbie Lang (25) breaks a tackle on this kickoff return in Saturday's game.5 / 8
Tom Landry is the dean of the Somerset football chain crew, with more than 20 years of service to the football team.6 / 8
Somerset fullback Vern Breault (33) cuts upfield as tackle Shane Miller (55) opens up the hole during Saturday's game.7 / 8
Somerset's Gabe Flandrick (35) follows the blocking of Luke Praschak (30) and Vern Breault (33) to score this two-point conversion in Saturday's game.8 / 8

Finish The Job.

That slogan has driven the Somerset football team since the Spartans lost in the WIAA Division 4 state championship last November.

Now, the Spartans are one game away from returning to the state title game. Somerset advanced to this Friday's Division 4 state semifinals by defeating St. Croix Central 49-14 in the state quarterfinals last Saturday in Somerset.

The Spartans will face undefeated Black River Falls in the state semifinal game. It will be played at 7 p.m. on Friday at Carson Park in Eau Claire.

To defeat Black River Falls, the Spartans will have to find a way to stop BRF speed demon Jordan Millis. Millis has scored 25 touchdowns this season and he averages more than 25 yards per reception. The Tigers use him as a receiver and running back, so the Spartans will need to know where he's at on each play.

The Spartans took care of business on Saturday, after a few tense moments from an inspired St. Croix Central team. The Panthers used their jumbo defensive formation on nearly every play in the first half, trying to prevent Somerset fullback Vern Breault from gaining yardage. While the Panthers were able to limit Breault's success, they couldn't do anything to corral Somerset quarterback Tyler Ledbeter.

Ledbeter ran wild, rushing for 333 yards and four touchdowns. In the past two playoff games, Ledbeter has accounted for 607 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

Somerset coach Bruce Larson said Ledbeter's big plays are the result of a strong blocking effort from everyone on the Spartan offense.

"Our linemen are coming off the ball well and we're blocking for sustained amounts of time," Larson said. "Our halfbacks are blocking really well."

Saturday's game began with a St. Croix Central possession, but it didn't take long for Somerset to strike. On the Spartans' first play from scrimmage, Ledbeter cut behind the right side of his line, turning upfield for a 70-yard touchdown run.

Central didn't back down, using its potent passing attack to march right back upfield for a touchdown. Two passes to Tyler Lathe and another to Cody Nyhagen put the Panthers at the Spartan 22. That set up one of the more spectacular catches in a season of thrilling grabs by the Panther receivers.

Quarterback Carl Moll sent a high-arcing pass to the goal line, where Nyhagen and two Spartan defensive backs went for the ball. The ball was tipped high into the air. While the Spartans tumbled to the ground, Nyhagen made a juggling catch for the touchdown. Central wasn't able to get the two-point conversion, leaving the Spartans with a 7-6 lead.

That lead stood until the first play of the second quarter, when Breault bulled his way into the end zone from four yards out. He also ran for the two-point conversion, putting the Spartans in front 15-6.

Again, Central responded immediately. Moll found sophomore Jason Matteson deep down the sideline for a 42-yard touchdown pass. This time the Panthers did get the conversion, making the score 15-14.

The offenses continued to dominate the half, with the Spartans marching downfield for the score. Runs of 13 and 26 yards moved the ball into Central territory and Ledbeter completed the drive with a 12-yard score.

On the next play, Ledbeter made a big defensive play, cutting in front of Nyhagen to intercept a Moll pass. The Spartans looked like they were ready to make another of their patented scores at the end of the first half, but Central's defense wouldn't let that happen. Somerset's final play was stopped a foot short of the goal line, leaving the Spartans with a 21-14 halftime lead.

"That stop at halftime was a big momentum boost for us," said Central coach Tony DiSalvo.

Coach Larson said he thought the Spartans played a bit tentative in the first half, knowing it was the final home game for the seniors. At halftime the Spartan coaches got the message across that they wanted more focused play. The team responded in a big way, outscoring Central 28-0 in the second half.

Somerset opened the second half with another quick strike. Ledbeter broke two tackles at the line, cutting upfield for a 45-yard touchdown at the 9:27 mark.

Central then marched deep into Somerset territory before the Spartans made the defensive stand that turned the game. Central drove to the Somerset 8-yard line before the Spartan defense came up with the stop.

Ledbeter soon broke away for another long touchdown to put the game out of reach. This time he scored from 74-yards out, making the Somerset lead 33-14.

Somerset's next possession was brief, with Ledbeter finding halfback Robbie Lang on a 48-yard pass to set up a 1-yard touchdown blast by Breault. Breault would score again early in the fourth quarter to make the score 49-14.

This was a huge offensive game for the Spartans, totaling 564 yards. Ledbeter rushed for 333 yards and Breault for 106 as the Spartans gained 516 yards on the ground.

DiSalvo said his team knew it would need to play a perfect game to beat Somerset, and through the first half, the Panthers played at that level.

"It's a tough way to lose, but they are good guys," DiSalvo said. He saluted his team for making it to Level 3 of the playoffs for the second straight year, especially when the Panthers appeared to be struggling at the end of the regular season.

DiSalvo disclosed that Nyhagen has been playing with a broken collarbone since the Panthers' win over Spring Valley on Oct. 5. Nyhagen remained one of the top defensive backs and receivers in the state.

"He's one tough hombre," DiSalvo commented.

While Central finishes its season with a 7-4 record, the Spartans look to add to their 10-1 record. This will be the sixth state semifinal in 12 years for the Spartans and they are hoping that track record of success will help them in this Friday's game.

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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