SPASH’s second-half comeback spoiled against Appleton North
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
Reigning WIAA Division 1 State Semifinalist Appleton North broke open a close game late to win a shootout over the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) football team at Community Stadium at Goerke Field Friday, Sept. 7.
The Panthers (0-4, 0-3) rallied from a 17-point, third quarter deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, before North (2-2, 2-2) scored 20 unanswered points late to win 56-36.
“It’s disappointing that we lost the game, but you didn’t see anybody quit out here,” said SPASH senior running back/defensive lineman Jack Kelly. “Everybody’s going 100 percent all of the time.
“We all believe in each other, and we’re going to pick it up and push through,” he said.
“I was extremely proud of the heart our kids showed; they played tough,” said SPASH football head coach Pete McAdams. “We’ve given up size and strength to a few of our opponents, but these kids have persevered.
“They’ve believed, they’ve stayed the course and trusted in the process that we’ve been preaching with these guys, and really believing in one another,” he said. “As a coach, you want to do everything you can to give your kids that deserved success, and to come up on the short end of the stick is disappointing.”
After opening the season with losses to fourth-ranked Neenah, ninth-ranked Hudson and second-ranked Kimberly, SPASH squared off Friday night against Appleton North, which was ranked third in Division 1 in the WisSports.net Coaches Poll before it suffered back-to-back losses to Neenah and top-ranked Fond du Lac.
SPASH struck on the opening drive of the game Friday night, as senior quarterback Brett Ehr threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Michael Vang to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 10:04 left in the first quarter after the extra-point kick from sophomore Kenny Schultz.
North answered with a 30-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:00 to go in the first quarter, while SPASH used a 59-yard run from senior wide receiver Travis Johnson to set up a one-yard touchdown run from Kelly to regain the lead at 13-7 with 4:26 remaining in the first quarter after the extra point was blocked.
North came back with a 39-yard touchdown pass to take a 14-13 lead with 2:25 to play in the first quarter, while Kelly scored on a nine-yard touchdown run with 8:28 left in the second quarter that gave the Panthers a 19-14 lead after the two-point conversion pass from Ehr fell incomplete.
“Offensively, we were able to get the ball in the end zone,” said McAdams. “The week before we got shut out, we had some decent drives over at Kimberly and then we weren’t able to finish in the end zone, so our focus coming into the week was to find the end zone, and we did that.”
SPASH looked to add to its lead late in the first half, as it neared midfield with under a minute to play, when North intercepted a pass from Ehr and returned it to the SPASH 34-yard line with 25 seconds to play in the second quarter.
Later in the drive, North completed a 33-yard pass to the SPASH one-yard line with three seconds remaining, and rather than kick a field goal, North elected to go for the touchdown, and scored on a one-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion pass to go into halftime with a 22-19 lead.
“One of the keys to that game was turnovers,” said McAdams. “The first interception we had thrown on offense put them in a position to get that touchdown right before the half, and that was a lot of momentum that they had coming into the half.
“It was a very emotional end to the first half, and coming in on the bottom of that emotion, it was a lot different than the other locker room, there’s no doubt,” he said.
North had the ball first to open the second half and scored on a 21-yard touchdown pass to go up 29-19 with 10:00 to play in the third quarter, and on its next possession, scored on a 66-yard touchdown run to increase its lead to 36-19 with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter, which capped a 22-0 run that saw North turn a five-point deficit into a 17-point lead in 5:12 of game time.
SPASH battled back, as it drove down the field and scored on a 30-yard field goal from Schultz with 1:48 to go in the third quarter to make it 36-22, and on the next series, senior cornerback Luke Bembenek intercepted a pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to pull SPASH within 36-29.
On the next series, junior cornerback Brenden Klish recovered a North fumble at the SPASH 47-yard line, and the Panthers capped the ensuing drive with a six-yard touchdown run from Kelly to complete a 17-0 run that tied the game at 36-36 with 8:38 left in the fourth quarter.
“Any time you’re behind you get tested, whether or not you’re going to throw in the towel, and these guys never did that,” said McAdams. “A huge credit goes to our sideline, the guys that weren’t getting a lot of the playing time; they were phenomenal on our sideline.
“Just really, really, really bringing a lot of energy and confidence to our players that were going back out on the field every drive,” he said.
The SPASH defense was one play away from getting a stop on the following drive, as North faced third-down-and-six from its own 49-yard line, when senior quarterback Carter Robinson broke through the left side of the line for a 51-yard touchdown run that gave North a 42-36 lead with 7:17 to go after the extra-point kick was no good.
On the next drive, North recovered a SPASH fumble at the SPASH 28-yard line and Robinson went on to score on a five-yard touchdown run with 2:54 left to increase North’s lead to 50-36 after the two-point conversion pass, and North picked off an Ehr pass 15 seconds later and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown to cap the scoring on its 56-36 win.
“Obviously it’s not the result we wanted, we wanted to try to turn this around, try to get our first win of the season, especially at home,” said SPASH senior linebacker Desmond Schommer. “But for me, just being a senior out here, it really warmed my heart to see everybody come together and just play for the team.
“And although we didn’t get the win today, I think we took a really big step forward,” he said.
Kelly finished with 141 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 33 carries, Johnson rushed for 82 yards on six carries, and senior wide receiver Mason King caught six passes for 62 yards, while Ehr completed 12-of-19 passes for 160 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
SPASH will look to bounce back when it plays at Division 2 ninth-ranked Marshfield (4-0) in the Blackout Cancer Game at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, after Marshfield won 17-14 over the Panthers last year.
“We’re real excited about that, because last year they came here and whooped up on us,” said Kelly. “And that was really disappointing, so we’re looking forward to that next week.”
“We’ve got to continue to believe in ourselves,” said Schommer. “We’ve got five games left, all conference games, and we’ve got to win out.
“We’re already putting 100 (percent) in, and we’ve got to put 120 in, and we’ve got to step it up just a little bit,” he said. “We’re right there, but obviously it’s not enough.”