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Sept. 14: Onalaska vs. Sparta

Onalaska quarterback Austin Larson is pursued by Sparta’s Madden Connelly as he passes during Friday’s MVC game at Onalaska High School. Larson passed for 342 yards and ran for two TDs in a wild 62-55 win.

ONALASKA — With the score tied in the fourth quarter, Onalaska High School quarterback Austin Larson dropped back to pass and finally had the look that he wanted all game.

His top receiver, Ray Heilman, had beaten his man and the safety over the top with a perfect route up the seam — all he had to do was get him the ball. Larson’s heave hit Heilman in stride and he took it the rest of the way for the deciding score in one of the wildest games in MVC history.

Sure both teams scored after Heilman’s bomb, but the points scored on that two-play possession were enough to put Onalaska in the lead for good and help secure a 62-55 homecoming victory for the Hilltoppers in a shootout that would make the Big 12 jealous.

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Sept. 14: Onalaska vs. Sparta

Sparta quarterback Cole Wisniewski throws a pass downfield during Friday’s MVC game against Onalaska.

“We had been setting that play up the whole game with quick stuff,” Larson said of the 75-yard scoring strike. “We felt he could get deep on it, and I just had to get it to him. He made a great play.”

It was one of a number of great plays between Heilman and Larson, as the two connected eight times for 204 yards and three scores. It was a major chunk of a 316-yard passing game for Larson, who also scored two short touchdowns on read-option keeps in the fourth quarter for Onalaska (4-1, 3-0).

“We saw the safety wanted to cover that slant route earlier, so coach (Andy) Sires, working his magic, just got me up the seam and we got ‘er,” Larson said of the definitive score.

However, Onalaska’s job wasn’t done after the big play. Sparta senior Nick Church fielded the ensuing kickoff at the 15-yard line and then cut through the coverage team for an 85-yard score. But Sparta’s point-after try missed — its second PAT miss of the game — and Larson’s second TD run gave Onalaska its final margin.

Church was the lifeblood of the Spartans (1-4, 0-3) the entire matchup; he scored five total TDs, adding three receiving and one rushing score to his tally. This is the Spartans’ fourth loss in as many weeks, but the losses have come by a combined 16 points.

“It’s mostly the seniors. We’re not ready to give football up,” Church said of the team’s ability to fight and stay in games. “We’re trying to play past the regular season, make the playoffs and keep working.”

Church finished with 127 receiving yards on five catches, while Sparta QB Cole Wisniewski had 200 yards passing with three TDs and a rushing score.

Junior Nathan Lubinsky carried the load on the ground for the Hilltoppers, gaining 238 yards and scoring twice on 30 carries.

Defense was merely optional in the first half. Neither team found much success stopping the other.

Church had a breakout half as he hauled in receiving touchdowns of 51, 15, and 13 yards to cap off the Spartans’ quick drives. Church also took a jet sweep handoff, turned up field and turned on the jets to score from 70 yards out and tally four scores in the half.

Wisniewski was effective with a moving pocket and off play-action. The one time Onalaska couldn’t account for senior running back Bryce Edwards, he ran nearly untouched up the middle for a 44-yard score.

After an offside by Onalaska on the second point-after try, Wisniewski ran in the two-point attempt and gave Sparta an advantage in the back-and-forth matchup. However, a missed PAT on Church’s fourth touchdown gave that advantage away.

For as well as Sparta’s offense performed, the Hilltoppers had answers at every turn. Heilman, Landon Peterson and Jack Weber caught touchdown passes from Larson in the first half, while Lubinsky had 144 of his yards before halftime.

Nick Pica set up two of Onalaska’s scoring drives with interceptions, one in each of the first two quarters. The first he dove to cradle the ball after it was tipped by a linebacker, the second he timed his leap perfectly to nab a Wisniewski deep pass down the right sideline. However he was out with an injury in the second half.


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Colten Bartholomew can be reached at colten.bartholomew@lee.net and on Twitter @cbartdizzle

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Reporter

Colten Bartholomew is a reporter and columnist for River Valley Media Group. Colten is the college sports coordinator for the La Crosse Tribune.