La Crosse Central vs. Sparta

Sparta High School quarterback Cole Wisniewski pitches the ball as he is brought down by Central’s Jacob Servais during Friday’s MVC game at UW-La Crosse’s Veterans Memorial Field.

Rory O’Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune

Ryan Beirne wanted to reach the end zone.

The West Salem High School senior took a snap late in the fourth quarter with the Panthers trying to put away Logan in a key MVC game at Swanson Field. A touchdown on that third-and-goal play from the 7-yard line would have done it.

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Ryan Beirne mug

Beirne

But after Beirne was stopped at the 2, the next option — a short field-goal attempt — became reality. But instead of lining up for the kick right away, Beirne walked toward his sideline and stood with coach Justin Jehn until the team was flagged for delay of game.

After the ball was backed up 5 yards, Beirne lined up and booted a 24-yard kick that gave the Panthers a 10-0 lead with 2 minutes, 39 seconds on the clock.

It isn’t often that a high school team wants a penalty to back the ball up on a kick attempt, but this one made sense.

“We were up tight (to the goalposts) there,” Jehn said of the attempt. “You have to understand some science to know how sharp that angle would be, so we wanted a better angle.

“It gave us a better chance to take a two-possession lead, so we were happy to kick it.”

Beirne’s field goal — his fourth of the season — forced the Rangers (3-4, 2-3) to move quickly, and that can lead to a mistake. West Salem’s Matthew Bigley took advantage of that mistake by intercepting Matt Escher’s first-down pass, and the Panthers ran out the clock after getting one first down.

The victory moves West Salem one win away from clinching a share of its first MVC championship since joining in 2014. The Panthers close by playing at Sparta (4-3, 2-3) on Friday, then hosting Onalaska (6-1, 4-1) at Logan on Oct. 13.

One reason West Salem finds itself in this position is the play of its defense. The Panthers have shut out four opponents — the last two included — and played pretty consistently.

Already comfortable with his linebackers and secondary during practices in early August, Jehn wanted to see the development of the line and make the group solid from front to back.

Juniors Joe Hess and John Glassmaker and sophomore Dylan Noel, collectively, had a big impact as defensive linemen against Logan. They were disruptive on the line of scrimmage, and Noel combined with linebacker Ethan Olson on a sack in the third quarter.

WISNIEWSKI EARNING HIS STRIPES: Sparta coach John Blaha said in the early days of training camp that he wasn’t sure who would be his team’s starting quarterback.

How exciting it must be, then, for Blaha and the Spartans (4-3, 2-3 MVC) to watch what sophomore Cole Wisniewski has been able to do this season.

Each time his team was put in a tough position — and there were plenty in Friday’s back-and-forth shootout between Central and Sparta — Cole Wisniewski made the reads, the runs and the throws necessary to keep the Spartans in the game.

The plays he made were impressive no matter the age of the player, but Wisniewski engineered drives to tie the game on three occasions, and led his team down to the Central 5-yard with another chance to knot it up with a few minutes remaining. The poise he showed the 46-38 loss is an indication that Sparta’s offense is in good hands for the rest of this season and in the coming years.

“He’s done a good job keeping his composure and improving each week,” Blaha said. “I thought our O-line did a real good job (Friday) keeping him clean and giving him running lanes … Our seniors have done a good job keeping him even out there.”

Wisniewski operated the Spartans’ triple-option efficiently, and he led the team with 100 yards on 19 carries. He also took advantage of one-on-one coverage in the passing game to pick up big chunks through the air, most notably when he hit senior tight end Keegan Savor up the seam in what turned out to be an 84-yard score.

Sparta will have a tough time securing a playoff bid on its own — it hosts West Salem (6-1, 5-0) and plays at Holmen (5-2, 4-1) to finish the season — but as Friday showed, Wisniewski’s development and the weapons around him can make life difficult on a defense.

SHUT-DOWN DEFENSE: Melrose-Mindoro was overwhelmed in a 51-7 loss to Bangor the first night of the season. The Cardinals rolled up 360 yards in that victory to give the Mustangs a tough start.

But no one has been able to put together much of anything against Melrose-Mindoro (6-1, 4-0) ever since.

The Mustangs have allowed an average of 3.5 points and 96.8 yards per game since Week 1 and they try to win a third straight Dairyland Conference championship. Melrose-Mindoro has shut out four of the last six teams it has played heading into Friday’s game against Eleva-Strum (2-5, 1-3).

A regular-season finale with Independence/Gilmanton (7-0, 4-0) looms ahead. The Indees can do their part to make that a battle of conference unbeatens by taking care of Augusta (3-4, 1-4) on Friday.

KING AT IT AGAIN: Caledonia quarterback Owen King, who will play basketball at South Dakota State after graduation, had quite a two-year performance to live up to as a senior.

King passed for 5,295 yards and 92 touchdowns in two seasons as the Warriors’ starter. Coincidentally, Caledonia won all 28 games he started those two seasons.

He is answering that performance with another big one as the Warriors (5-0, 4-0) continue their dominance in the White Division of the Southeast District. After passing for 274 yards and six touchdowns in a 42-13 win over Chatfield, King has 1,122 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and one interception.

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