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Panther season ends in 14-7 loss to Somerset

Ellsworth's defense makes a goaline stand early on in their WIAA playoff game against Somerset Friday at Fuller-Symes Field. Photo by Kyle Stevens.1 / 2
Ellsworth's Brandon VanderMarliere tangles with Somerset's Reed Baillargeon (12) next to Panther lineman Michael Koch (61). Photo by Kyle Stevens2 / 2

Somerset High School’s football program isn’t one of the state’s best just because of the regular season alone.

The No. 4 ranked and defending state champion Spartans know what they need to do to win WIAA playoff games. And they did so Friday evening by 14-7 margin in a Division 4, Level 3 contest over No. 3 Ellsworth, handing the Panthers their first and last loss of the 2013 season in front of a huge crowd at Fuller-Symes Field.

The Spartans are now 7-1 in Level 3 playoff contests while EHS drops to 0-2, their last such contest coming seven years ago.

“Their experience is experience at this level of play and they played very well,” Ellsworth head coach Clair Austin said.

Somerset’s experience allowed them to win the way they normally do, controlling the line of scrimmage, running the ball and stopping the run. The Spartans finished with 334 yards on the ground compared to Ellsworth’s 16. They had 15 first down to the Panthers’ seven.  They dominated in time of possession and in field position, especially in the first half. They didn’t have a single yard passing nor did they need it when junior running back Max Praschak rushed for 278 yards on 41 carries, including a 90-yard scamper in the third quarter where he broke four tackles on his way to the endzone.  They also had two interceptions.

“They had a nice defensive scheme against us, they were very aggressive in blitzing and controlled the outside gaps,” Austin said. “(Praschak’s) run certainly and we lost (Brett) Freier on that play as well to injury.

Although Ellsworth made a goaline stand in the first half, they couldn’t move the ball and a short punt set up the Spartans on the Panthers’ 33-yard line. They were able to move the ball down the shorten field until Praschak scored on a two-yard run.

Somerset led 14-0 and could have gone up 21-0 had they converted on a fourth and one at the 16 yards line midway through the fourth quarter. But rare pass attempted to University of Minnesota-bound tight end Gaelin Elmore gave the ball back to Ellsworth with 6:00 to go and the lead to the home team’s lone scoring drive of the ballgame. EHS was able to use the passing game by quarterback Emery Whalen and Kyle Kurrelmeyer to move down to the Somerset one-yard line and scored on a fourth down play as Whalen scored on a quarterback sneak.

Both quarterbacks combined for 113 yards passing. Dennis Schutz led the Panthers in receptions with four for 46 yards. Nick Taranto caught two passes for 25 yards, Evan Klawitter had two receptions for 17 yards and Jarek Fischer made a big-play grab for 31 yards on the EHS scoring drive.

“We were able to connect on some passes and we did a better job of picking up blitzes which gave our quarterbacks time to make good throws.” Austin said.

However Ellsworth was unable to recover the onside kick and Somerset was able to run out the clock on the 2013 Panther season, MBC champions and a perfect 9-0 still the same. Somerset will go on to play Winnecone on Level 4 next Saturday. The Wolves were 21-14 winner over Nekoosa in the other bracket-side quarterfinal.

“I hope they do go one and win the title,” Austin said, “because I believe this was the state final game right here tonight.”