SPARTA — The show lived up to the hype as Sparta High School senior quarterback Cole Wisniewski squared off with Central quarterback Johnny Davis on Friday, and the Spartans walked away with a very impressive victory.
Wisniewski rushed for 246 yards and three touchdowns, and Davis passed for 406 and two touchdowns, but a late fumble killed a Central rally during a back-and-forth second half and allowed the Spartans to hold on for a 38-33 MVC victory.
The Red Raiders (4-3, 2-2) had one last chance to win the game after forcing Sparta (6-1, 4-1) to punt from its own 47-yard line with 3 minutes, 3 seconds remaining.
The Tye Klass punt pinned the Red Raiders at their own 6-yard line, but Davis responded with a 20-yard completion to Porter Pretasky, then followed it with a 20-yarder to Peter Fleming to move the ball to the 46. Davis kept the ball on the next play and gained 12 yards but fumbled, and Klass recovered it to allow the Spartans to run out the clock and remain in contention for their first MVC championship.
Sparta is a half-game behind both Onalaska (6-1, 4-0) and Holmen (6-1, 4-0) with two games to play. The Spartans close out the MVC season at Holmen next week.
"It's a make-or-break moment," Sparta coach Adam Dow said of the punt. "The difference for us between this year and last year is that we get put in that positiion, and we have kids who want to finish the game.
"No one is looking around to see who will step up. They just do it."
The fumble recovery by Klass was followed by a couple of Wisniewski runs that produced a first down that ended the game.
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The second half of the game was much different than the first.
The Spartans scored the first 17 points but missed out on a chance to take a 20-0 lead when Chris Jacobs was wide on a 33-yard field goal attempt. He had made one from 35 yards on Sparta's previous possession.
Davis gave the Red Raiders some momentum with an 80-yard touchdown drive after the missed field goal. Davis completed four passes for 54 yards and ran four times for 26, reaching the end zone from the 2 on the final play of the half to get Central within 17-6.
A 70-yard touchdown drive started the second half, and Davis finished that one with a 9-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 17-14 and really tighten things up.
"We knew it was going to be a good fight in the second half," Wisniewski said. "They made some plays and then started to put some drives together. They are a good team, and we knew they would fight back after we took that lead."
The teams traded touchdowns the rest of the way. Davis connected with Terrance Thompson 13 times for 205 yards and a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that produced the final score with 5:08 left.
Nick Kent had give the Spartans a cushion with a 47-yard touchdown run on the previous possession.