HAMMOND, Wis. -- As St. Croix Central was scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half against Somerset Friday night, Panther coach John Tackman said he hardly spoke with offensive coordinator Ryan Berg. He was too busy worrying about what the Spartans and their hall of fame coach Bruce Larson were doing.
“It’s hard to model what he does,” Tackman said. “It’s obviously the same thing we do, but he gets better and better as the year goes on. Bruce Larson knows what he’s doing.”
In the end, it was the Panthers who prevailed, getting a 27-yard field goal from Jackson Pettit at the end of the first half to extend their lead to 22-14, before scoring three unanswered touchdowns after the break to post a 43-14 win.
“Our kids adjusted,” Tackman said about the second half. “Honestly I didn’t say much at halftime, but we got better as we progressed and took advantage of what they gave us.”
St. Croix Central struck first with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Tadan Holzer to Gabe Siler, the first of four Siler touchdowns, on their second possession of the game. But the Spartans came right back with a 62-yard touchdown run by Caleb Melvin, and after a Panther penalty, Melvin converted the two-point run to give Somerset an 8-7 lead.
Siler capped a 69-yard Panther drive when he took a pitch on the first play of the second quarter and beat the Spartan defense to the pylon to give Central a 13-7 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
After holding the Spartans on fourth down near midfield, Holzer hit Kelson Klin for a 35-yard touchdown, and after another failed two-point conversion the Panther lead was 19-8.
Somerset then marched 80 yards and chewed up over six minutes of clock to cut the lead to 19-14 with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Tate Pitcher to Carson Peterson with 29 seconds left in the half.
But the Panthers weren’t content to go into the locker room with a five-point lead. Starting at their own 46, Holzer hit Adam Nelson for a first down to the Spartan 24, then found Siler, who went out of bounds at the ten, before Pettit split the uprights as time expired to make it a 22-14 game.
Pettit helped the Panthers control field position by drilling five touchbacks in addition to kicking four extra points and a field goal. The best starting field position for Somerset was the St. Croix Central 40 after recovering a Panther fumble in the first quarter.
The victory left the Panthers with a record of 6-1 at the end of the regular season while Somerset, who played one less game, finished 3-3. Both teams will take part in Level 1 of the WIAA's two-week tournament series beginning this week, and Tackman said the Panthers are looking forward to continuing their season.
“Our goal was to play nine games, so we got seven in and our goal is to play two more,” he said. “This season wasn’t about conference titles, this season wasn’t about state titles. Our goal was just to play -- play no matter what. We don’t care where it is or what field we’re on or who it is, these kids just want to play football. It’s what they’ve been doing their entire lives. And that’s our goal as coaches is to give it to them.”
He also tipped his hat to the team’s seniors after Friday night’s Senior Night win.
“These kids have gone through a lot,” he said. “A trip to Camp Randall when they were sophomores, and a lot of those kids played as sophomores. A tough loss last year in the playoffs in overtime. Going from not thinking they were going to have a season to getting what we’ve got, and it’s been a special one for those kids. It’s been a very fortunate year for those guys to play as much as they’ve been able to play.”
Second-seeded St. Croix Central will host No. 3 Northwestern (6-1) in a Division 3 Level 1 matchup Friday night, Nov. 13, while fourth-seeded Somerset will travel to No. 1 Ellsworth (6-0).