After beating Stratford, Spencer/Columbus faces Shoreland Lutheran with a trip to the state championship on the line
By Paul Lecker
SPENCER — The Spencer/Columbus Catholic football team had its struggles in the first half against a Stratford defense that was ready to fight.
Two turnovers did not hurt the Rockets as their defense rose to the occasion, and when they forced two turnovers and blocked a punt in the second half, Spencer/Columbus pulled away for a 30-15 win in a WIAA Division 5 Level 3 playoff game on Nov. 6 at Spencer High School.
Three plays in the third quarter defined the Rockets’ victory.
A 39-yard run by Noah Zastrow set up a touchdown on Spencer/Columbus’ first drive of the second half, Dakota Andreae blocked a punt that Ryan Busse recovered in the end zone for a score, and Hunter Luepke recovered a fumble that was followed by an Elijah Welsh touchdown run to push an 8-0 halftime lead to a 30-0 advantage.
Next up for the Rockets (12-0) is Shoreland Lutheran in a D-5 Level 4 state semifinal on Friday night at Ingalls Field in Ripon. The game will be broadcast on WOSQ-FM 92.3 and wdlbwosq.com.
Spencer/Columbus has never made it this far in the postseason in the 14 years of the co-op program. Shoreland Lutheran’s three playoff wins are its first since winning a Level 1 game in 2005.
The winner moves on to the Division 5 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 4 p.m.against either defending D-5 runner-up Amherst or Arcadia, who play Friday night in Eau Claire.
Shoreland Lutheran (10-2) placed third in the Metro Classic Conference standings this season, losing to conference champion Burlington Catholic Central 49-30 and second-place Kenosha St. Joseph 28-22. Since the Kenosha St. Joseph loss on Oct. 2, the Pacers have won five in a row, including a 35-21 victory over Marshall last week in a Level 3 playoff.
“The focus has been great,” Spencer/Columbus coach Jason Gorst said. “I have not noticed any difference in the way guys are preparing for our next opponent. We have really taken a week-by-week approach this season, so this is the first time that we can actually say it is a team goal to get to Madison.”
The Pacers have a diversified offense, with quarterback Nik Lange throwing for 1,331 yards and 22 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Keenan Robinson leads the running game with 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns. Receiver Trey Johnson has 42 catches for 660 yards and 12 touchdowns, including eight for 124 yards and a pair of scores against Marshall.
“Any team that makes it to Level 4 is very deserving to be there,” Gorst said. “They are a good team, and we are excited to play them. They have a good mix of run and pass on offense and some good linebackers that make plays on defense. At the end of the day, it will come down to how well we execute, block, and tackle.”
The Rockets should be well-prepared after having to grind it out for much of their game against Stratford.
Spencer/Columbus drove 69 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown on its first possession, a 10-yard touchdown run by Hunter Hildebrandt.
The Rockets went 81 yards in nine plays the first time they had the ball in the second half. Zastrow’s 39-yard run, the longest offensive play of the game for Spencer/Columbus, helped set up a Luepke 2-yard touchdown.
“Our guys knew to expect a very good and well-prepared Stratford defense,” Gorst said. “We knew we would have to grind out some drives and not rely on big plays as they are a very sound tackling team. We hurt ourselves in the first half with turnovers. We knew we had to stay focused in the second half and limit mistakes to pull off double-digit play drives.”
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.