By Paul Lecker
WAUTOMA – The Spencer/Columbus Catholic football team has used big scoring plays throughout the season to get to this point.
However, the deeper a team gets in the playoffs, the more difficult the competition becomes and the need to grind out long drives becomes paramount.
On Friday in a WIAA Division 4 Level 2 playoff matchup against Wautoma, the Rockets were able to use a powerful running game to mash out four 70-yard-plus scoring drives and eke out a 28-27 victory over the top-seeded Hornets at Wautoma High School.
Spencer/Columbus (8-3), the fifth seed in Group C of the Division 4 bracket, moves on to a Level 3 for the first time in the co-op’s 13-year history. The Rockets will play the winner of Saturday’s Little Chute (8-2) at Bloomer (9-1) matchup next Friday or Saturday. Little Chute and Bloomer will play Saturday at 4 p.m. at Bloomer High School.
The final score came down to extra points as each team scored four touchdowns. Spencer/Columbus converted two of four 2-point plays, while Wautoma (9-2) kicked successful extra points on its first three touchdowns.
After the final touchdown of the game, which the Hornets scored 37 seconds in to the fourth quarter, they mishandled the snap and failed on a pass play that would have given them the lead. Neither team scored over the final 11 minutes and the Rockets escaped with a one-point win.
“It says a lot about mental toughness,” Spencer/Columbus coach Jason Gorst said. “That’s a lot of plays to go without making a big mistake – a fumble or a penalty or something. It says a lot about our kids and how they focus in those situations.”
Following Wautoma’s score early in the fourth quarter, on quarterback Jack Eagan’s third touchdown pass of the game, this one for 12 yards to Taylor Rivers, both teams couldn’t move the football.
Spencer/Columbus’ three fourth-quarter drives ended in punts, while Wautoma turned the ball over on downs and Tim Bauer picked off an Eagan pass on third-and-long.
The Hornets finally started moving the ball after taking over with just 2:12 to go at their only 39.
Eagan hit Rivers for an 11-yard pass play to get the ball to midfield and ran four times for 22 yards to push it down to the S/C 28. The Rockets held from there and took over on downs with 24 seconds left after three-straight incompletions.
“I am real happy for the kids. They deserve all the credit,” Gorst said. “They played their hearts out all night long and I am extremely proud of them.”
Spencer/Columbus drove 70 yards in 11 plays on the opening drive of the game, all on the ground, for a touchdown.
Mitch Susa ran five times for 46 yards and scored on a 4-yard run. Hunter Hildebrandt added a two-point conversion and the Rockets led 8-0 6:02 into the game.
The long drive settled the nerves of the Rockets.
“That was huge,” Gorst said. “It shows and it shows them that we are a good football team and we are going to play with them. It builds confidence for us and makes them know we are for real.”
Both teams exchanged scoring drives in the second quarter.
Wautoma inched closer when Eagan hit Nolan Hinz on a 31-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the second quarter. Colton Burt kicked the extra point to cut the Rockets’ lead to one.
Spencer/Columbus responded with a 74-yard scoring drive, this time taking just six plays. Pass plays of 30 and 39 yards from Calvin Lenz to Bauer set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Tyler Voda and the Rockets led 14-7.
Wautoma tied it up on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Eagan with 5 minutes to go before halftime, but the Rockets came back again.
Spencer/Columbus drove 78 yards in 11 plays – the first eight coming on the ground. On fourth down-and-5 from the 22, Lenz connected with Bauer again for a touchdown with just 8 seconds to go before halftime. The two-point conversion failed and S/C led 20-14 at the break.
Bauer, a junior receiver and defensive back, had just two catches for 14 yards this season coming into the game, both in a loss to Stanley-Boyd in late August.
“That was pretty much my first big game,” Bauer said. “It was perfect passing from Calvin. We ran most of the time and set it up with that.”
The Hornets stuck quickly to start the third quarter when Eagan hit Rivers for a 48-yard touchdown pass on a backside screen play and a long run by Rivers. The extra point put Wautoma up 21-20.
Spencer/Columbus was not fazed. The Rockets put together their most important drive of the season, going 79 yards in 16 plays, all running the football. Susa had 34 of his game-high 119 yards on the drive, junior fullback Elijah Welsh stepped in and ran four times for 10 yards and the Rockets converted a pair of fourth downs – the second on a 3-yard touchdown run by Lenz. Hunter Luepke ran in what proved to be a big two-point conversion play to put S/C up 28-21 with 1:16 left in the quarter. The drive chewed up 8:41 off the clock.
“This is really big,” Bauer said. “We took it game by game and focused one game at a time. We will keep doing that in the playoffs, taking it game by game.”
Rockets 28, Hornets 27
Spencer/Columbus 8 12 8 0 – 28
Wautoma 0 14 7 6 – 27
SC – Mitch Susa 4 run (Hunter Hildebrandt run), 5:58.
W – Nolan Hinz 31 pass from Jack Eagan (Colton Burt kick), 11:14.
SC – Tyler Voda 7 run (run failed), 7:45.
W – Eagan 1 run (Burt kick), 5:00.
SC – Tim Bauer 22 pass from Calvin Lenz (pass failed), 0:08.
W – Taylor Rivers 52 pass from Eagan (Burt kick), 9:57.
SC – Lenz 3 run (Hunter Luepke run), 1:16.
W – Rivers 12 pass from Eagan (pass failed), 11:23.
First downs: Spencer/Columbus 13; Wautoma 10.
Rushing (att-yards): Spencer/Columbus 52-259; Wautoma 26-104.
Passing (att-comp-yards-int): Spencer/Columbus 4-5-89-0; Wautoma 11-22-237-1.
Penalties (no.-yards): Spencer/Columbus 9-75; Wautoma 4-25.
Fumbles (total-lost): Spencer/Columbus 3-0; Wautoma 1-0.
Punting (no.-yards): Spencer/Columbus 4-34.3; Wautoma 1-33.0.
Rushing: SC, Mitch Susa 19-119, Tyler Voda 11-67, Hunter Hildebrandt 8-49, Elijah Welsh 7-20, Noah Zastrow 1-7, Calvin Lenz 6-minus 3. W, Jack Eagan 11-57, Nathaniel Loging 11-30, Logan Krueger 3-11, Dakota Wilcox 1-6.
Passing: SC, Lenz 4-5-89-0. W, Eagan 10-21-232-1, Loging 1-1-5-0.
Receiving: SC, Tim Bauer 3-90, Hunter Luepke 1-minus 1. W, Taylor Rivers 6-111, Loging 2-54, Cody martin 1-36, Nolan Hinz 1-31, Colton Burt 1-5.
Interceptions (defense): SC, Bauer.
Punting: SC, Ryan Busse 3-33.0, Lenz 1-36.0. W, Eagan 1-33.0.
Records: Spencer/Columbus 7-3; Wautoma 8-2.
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com).