Two first-half touchdowns fuel SPASH in first win
By Jacob Heid
STEVENS POINT — The threat of severe weather may have impacted the start time of SPASH’s football game on Sept 2 against Hortonville, but it didn’t stop the Panthers from battling for a victory. SPASH picked up its first win of the season in a close 23-21 game at Goerke Field. The Panthers scored 17 first-half points to secure the win.
The defense trotted onto the field for the game’s first possession and held firm. The Panthers forced a Polar Bear three-and-out that gave them the ball on their own 45-yard line. That is one of many significant defensive possessions in the game. SPASH could not put six on the board after good field position, but junior Cam Saeger made it 3-0 with a 29-yard field goal early on. The next Hortonville possession kept SPASH’s defense on the field for nearly seven minutes. The Polar Bears chewed up a majority of the first quarter clock, converting on a short passing touchdown that gave Hortonville a 7-3 lead with 1:26 remaining in the quarter.
Head coach Ryan Eigenberger kept the energy up on the SPASH sideline as the offense went back on the field. Sophomore quarterback Grant Chandonais marched the offense down the field with a long reception to lead receiver Payton Pumper, putting the Panthers on Hortonville’s 24-yard line. Pumper led the team in receptions and yards with eight receptions and 87 yards.
One of the many turning points in the game happened next. Hortonville got a stop, forcing a field goal attempt. They ended up jumping offsides which put SPASH’s offense back on the field. The Panthers capitalized on a screen pass to Braylon Smola on the very next play. SPASH took a 10-7 lead with 10:22 remaining in the first half.
The Polar Bears continued to put themselves in a position to score, but the Panthers’ defense showed its teeth again. Late in the first half, Hortonville had the ball on fourth down at the two-yard line and failed to convert. A pile of Panthers blew up the play at the line of scrimmage. A couple of possessions later, SPASH forced another turnover on downs, turning it into six points. Chandonais threw another ball, this time to Jaxson Stetler in the endzone, and he came down with it, making it a 17-7 ball game at halftime. Chandonais finished the night with 210 passing yards and two touchdowns. SPASH was a new team in the first half. A different kind of energy was buzzing around the sidelines after every possession, and confidence was present in every player.
A ten-point lead at halftime was enough for the Panthers’ defense to hold onto in the second half. Hortonville scored twice, once in the third, making it a 17-14 game. The Polar Bears chewed most of the third-quarter clock scoring that touchdown. Smola went untouched into the end zone from 29 yards out in the following possession, picking up his second touchdown for the Panthers late in the third quarter. SPASH led 23-14 with 1:48 left in the third.
The game stayed that way until under a minute left in the game. SPASH’s star linebacker Kale Roth picked off Broden Butzin earlier in the fourth, which cut off a scoring chance for the Polar Bears. The Panthers gave up a touchdown with 59 seconds left but came out victorious, putting them in the win column for the first time this season. It was also their first conference game of the season.
A hard-fought victory is just what SPASH needed as they head into a massive rivalry this upcoming week. The Panthers take on Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln for the Ol’ River Jug on Sept 9 at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids.
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