Upset bid falls shy
A late Panther touchdown stymied Sparta’s hopes of an upset on the gridiron Friday night, as West Salem held on for a 35-21 Mississippi Valley Conference football victory over the Spartans.
Sparta trailed 28-7 at the half, but a pair of Spartan touchdowns in the second half cut the deficit to seven and gave Sparta a chance to knock-off the Panthers on their home field.
West Salem drew first blood, when Zach Pierce scored on a two-yard run with 9:32 left in the first quarter to cap off a successful first drive for the Panthers.
A fumble on Sparta’s next possession gave West Salem the ball deep in Sparta territory.
Panther quarterback Tim Schauf scored on the first play of the drive from 22 yards out, fiving West Salem a 14-0 advantage with just under six minutes to play in the first quarter.
Sparta was able to answer on its next possession, marching 81 yards in 13 plays to cut the Panther lead to 14-7.
The key play of the drive came on fourth down deep in West Salem territory, when Spartan quarterback Jaret Sullivan connected with Caleb Schauf on a seven-yard scoring strike.
West Salem answered with back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter to open up a large halftime lead.
The first Panther score came with 5:04 left in the half, when Schauf finished a 10-play, 61-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run.
With just 48 seconds left in the half, Schauf connected with Mark Harris on a 34-yard touchdown pass to give West Salem a three-touchdown lead at intermission.
The Spartans came out strong in the second half, scoring back-to-back touchdowns to cut the deficit to seven.
After Sparta forced a Panther punt on West Salem’s first possession of the second half, Sullivan engineered a 10-play, 56-yard scoring drive that ended when he hit paydirt from three yards out.
The Panthers looked to answer, driving deep into Sparta territory once again, but Travis Goede ended the scoring threat when he picked off a Schauf pass on the seven-yard line.
Six plays later, Ryan Wisniewski broke free and rambled 49 yards for a score, pulling Sparta to within seven points at 28-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Sparta held West Salem in check on the next Panther possession, but was forced to punt after going three-and-out.
West Salem responded with a six-play, 50-yard scoring drive that put the game away.
Sparta finished with 226 yards on the ground and 52 through the air for a total of 278, while West Salem racked up 330 yards – including 209 on the ground and 121 through the air.
Jacob Edwards led Sparta’s rushing attack, picking up 65 yards on 19 carries, while Sullivan gained 63 yards in 16 carries and Wisniewski had 48 yards and a touchdown in three carries.
Greg Jacobs carried the ball five times and picked up 35 yards for the Spartan gridders.
Sullivan completed five of 14 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown to Schauf, who finished with 40 yards on two catches.
Wisniewski caught a trio of passes for a dozen yards.
Sparta fell to 1-3 in MVC action and 1-5 overall with the loss, while the Panthers improved to 1-3 in league play and 2-4 overall.
The Spartan gridders are back in action Friday, when they travel to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to battle Aquinas in a 7 p.m. MVC match-up.