REEDSBURG, Wis. — After its Cinderella run to the quarterfinal of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs last season, the Sparta High School football team was once again in the underdog role Friday night.
That same upstart magic rarely manifested itself against No. 4 seed Reedsburg as the host Beavers chomped down on the fifth-seeded Spartans to the tune of a 37-7 first-round loss at Millennium Field in Reedsburg, Wis. The Beavers racked up nearly 400 rushing yards and four touchdowns while keeping the Spartans and star quarterback Cole Wisniewski quiet the entire night.
“I said before the game it would come down to big plays and doing our responsibilities,” Sparta coach Adam Dow said. “They did a really good job running their offense; we missed some keys, and they executed on them.”
Reedsburg (8-2) built a 17-7 lead at halftime before going to its bread and butter on its opening possession of the third quarter. The Beavers ground out a 12-play, 57-yard drive, chewing up nearly seven minutes before senior Casey Campbell plunged in from four yards out for a 24-7 lead with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
Reedsburg faced third down just twice on the drive, converting on both occasions as the Sparta defense was carved up for big gains -- a constant theme throughout the night.
“It’s all about your keys and your assignments, and you have to execute,” Dow said. “We missed some execution points, we missed some keys and that was the difference with them. If we don’t stay sound on defense, they’re just going to be able to chunk us down the field.”
Needing some momentum, Sparta (7-3) converted on a crucial third-and-3 on its ensuing drive, the Spartans’ first first down since the opening play of the game, with a 10-yard Wisniewski run. The drive came to a screeching halt on the ensuing play however as Wisniewski was picked off by Reedsburg’s Joe Statz.
Reedsburg gave the Spartans some life with a fumble of its own on the very next play, but Sparta failed to seize the opportunity. The Spartans missed on what would have been a touchdown when a Wisniewski pass slipped out of the hands of junior wide receiver Abe Eide on a seam route on the ensuing drive before the Spartans were forced to punt.
The failed chance led to a 21-yard touchdown pass from Reedsburg’s Connor Schyvinck to Alex Kruser for a 30-7 lead with 10:51 left to play. From there, the Beavers finished things off with a 9-yard touchdown run by Zach Bestor with 2:55 left to play.
“Anytime you need to make plays you have to execute there and today we weren’t able to make it,” Dow said.
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Sparta started the game strong as junior Corbin Hauser rushed for 14 yards on the opening play from scrimmage. The Beavers defense buckled down though, keeping the Spartans without another first down the rest of the first half while forcing three three-and-outs.
The Spartans saw a glimmer of hope when Wisniewski darted 70 yards down the near sideline on a quarterback keeper to cut the Beavers lead to 10-7 with 6:37 left in the first half. The Beavers chomped down from there however, keeping Wisniewski, who finished with 115 yards, in check to just 45 yards on his other 11 carries as the Spartans were limited to just 152 total yards.
For Dow, the biggest struggles were caused by the Beavers’ linebackers and edge rushers.
“They set the edge well and kept us inside. Our offense, we like to get the ball on the outside, get our athletes out in space and they did a really good job filtering us back in,” he said. “They’re a very well coached team and a really good ball club out there. I’ve said it before, this bracket is stacked, and you’re going to see it in the next couple weeks.”
Despite the loss, it was another stellar season for the Spartans, who qualified for the playoffs in consecutive years for just the second time in program history and eighth overall.
“The way I look at it, this senior class turned 17 wins for them in their career in a program that really had little, to no success beforehand,” Dow said. “They have a lot to be proud of and I’m just glad I got to coach this team.”