SOMERSET, Wis. -- Football coaches don’t normally talk about first game mistakes in October. But this isn’t a normal football season, and Friday’s night’s Somerset game against Amery was the Spartans' first game of the season.

So there were plenty of mistakes by the Spartans. But despite turning the ball over five times and committing some untimely penalties, Somerset earned a 34-21 victory over the Warriors, who had lost to St. Croix Central 56-14 in their season opener a week earlier.

“A lot of first game mistakes,” Somerset coach Bruce Larson said. “We have a lot of things to clean up. Too many turnovers, too many penalties, too many missed tackles. In between, there were some good things. We hit some nice plays, but just way too many mistakes.”

Somerset hit a pair of nice plays early, getting a 48-yard run from Caleb Melvin to set up a 7-yard scoring run by quarterback Tate Pitcher late in the first quarter, and a 69-yard TD run from Pitcher early in the second quarter to take a 14-0 lead.

Somerset’s Caleb Melvin (27) breaks free for a 48-yard gain in the  first quarter of the Spartans’ 34-21 victory over Amery Friday night, Oct. 2, in Somerset. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
Somerset’s Caleb Melvin (27) breaks free for a 48-yard gain in the first quarter of the Spartans’ 34-21 victory over Amery Friday night, Oct. 2, in Somerset. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

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But in between the Spartans fumbled the ball away to the Warriors to kill a drive at the Amery 30. Then midway through the second quarter, Somerset fumbled again at its own 30-yard line, leading to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Amery quarterback Kale Hopke to Bryn Gouker to cut the Spartan lead in half.

Somerset had a chance to pad its lead just before halftime but saw another drive end with a fumble deep in Warrior territory.

A nice return of the second half kick by Eli Gingras set the Spartans up at the Warrior 45 and Jack Casey capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to extend Somerset’s lead to 20-7.

After forcing an Amery incomplete pass in the end zone on fourth down the Spartans took over at their own 8-yard line and were driving before their fourth fumble of the game just across midfield. The Warriors capitalized with a 4-yard touchdown run by Hopke to cut the Spartans’ lead to 20-13 early in the fourth quarter.

But the Spartans hit for another big play in the form of a 70-yard kickoff return by Melvin and Pitcher carried it over for the two-point conversion to extend the lead to 28-13.

Somerset forced Amery to turn the ball over on downs on back-to-back possessions, but fumbled the ball away in between, before getting a 1-yard touchdown run by Chase Webster to make it a 34-13 game with 2:26 remaining. Amery got a touchdown and two-point conversion with 1:11 left but Somerset’s Landon Anez covered the Warriors’ onside kick attempt to make the final 34-21.

Larson said the Spartans were fortunate to come out of their first game with a win.

“We never punted,” he pointed out. “When you never punt you should score more than 34 points. The penalties? That’s just lack of concentration. Turnovers? Just hang on to the ball. We fumbled what, three quarterback snaps? You can’t do that and beat somebody very often. They turned it over once, we turned it over five times so we were a minus-four. You don’t win many games when you’re a minus-four. We were luckier than heck to do that today.”

Larson and the Spartans will go back to work this week before traveling to Osceola Friday, Oct. 9.

Panthers rally for more than win

One hour before St. Croix Central’s home opener against Baldwin-Woodville Friday night the Panthers learned four starters would have to sit out due to COVID contact tracing.

That meant a lot of new faces in the Panther lineup, including two sophomores making their first start on the offensive line. But after a slow start, Central scored the game's final 28 points to post a 28-8 Middle Border Conference win over the Blackhawks.

“It was a circus for us,” Tackmann said. “ We had a slow start because of it, but once we finally got our feet underneath us and caught up to what we were now living with, kids stepped up. Kids that didn’t take a single rep all week found themselves starting and playing key roles real quickly.”

Tackmann said right before the game he was still busy meeting with school administrators and county health officials about the situation before returning to the Panther locker room for his pre-game talk.

“I walk down to the locker room and jokingly the kids are like, ‘OK, here comes Tackmann, who is he pulling out next?'” the coach said. “So then we’re sitting there right before kickoff and we’re thinking, here we go. All right. This is what we have, these are the moves we’re making, and we’re just going to play and we’re going to have fun.”

And once the Panthers recovered from an early 8-0 deficit, they had a lot of fun.

Taden Holzer ran for a four-yard touchdown run and the Panthers tacked on the two-point conversion to tie the score 8-8 just before halftime and Holzer added two more touchdown runs of four and two yards in the third quarter to open up a 22-8 Panther lead. Gabe Siler broke free for a 41-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to make the final 28-8 and bump the Panthers to 2-0 on the season.

Tackmann said he was especially proud of the Panther defense, who came up with a pair of goal-line stands just before halftime and again near the end of the game.

“One of the goal line stands, during a timeout, I went out to the huddle and I looked at the defense and I said, my goodness guys, I look at the 11 of you and six of you are in spots that you didn’t even practice in this week,” he said. “And I looked at them and I said, this isn’t about you not having reps, this is about what our attitude is as a defense and what we’ve been coaching you guys to do wherever you play. And they were able to step up and make a couple of big goal line stands to keep points off the board and give the ball back to our offense.”

Holzer finished with 124 rushing yards on 29 carries and Siler added 80 yards on eight touches while Holzer completed 4-of-6 passes for 91 yards. Siler led the defense with 10 tackles and Collin Fischer made seven stops while Kelson Kiln picked off two passes and recorded a sack.

Tackmann said he could see his players enjoying themselves more and more as the game developed.

“Kids that have played in state final games in Camp Randall openly said it was probably the most fun they’ve had on a football field,” he said. “Just the teamwork and coming together and playing for the guys at home watching it on TV because they couldn’t be there. It was a very special atmosphere.”

The Panthers will meet undefeated Ellsworth in a battle for first place in the MBC this Friday night in Ellsworth.