SPENCER — It took some time, but once Spencer/Columbus found its ignition switch, it exploded into orbit.
The Rockets scored three times during a stretch of less than five minutes in the third quarter to post a 30-15 victory over Stratford during a WIAA Division 5 Level 3 game Friday at Ted Fritsch Field.
The victory propelled the Rockets (12-0) to the state semifinals, against Shoreland Lutheran, a 35-21 winner over Marshall, next Friday or Saturday at a time and place to be determined. Stratford ends its 2015 campaign with a 9-3 record.
“Losing in Level 3 was devastating last year,” S/C senior lineman Dakota Andreae said. “We had a bunch of guys get in the weight room the following week and worked really hard to be where we are now.
“It’s so exciting to be going to the state semifinals.”
Added S/C coach Jason Gorst, “It’s a huge accomplishment to get to the state semifinals, but we have a lot of work to do ahead of us.”
Andreae had huge part in the Rockets’ 22-point third quarter.
Leading 8-0 in early in the third, Spencer/Columbus grabbed the momentum during a series of events that completely changed the flow of the game.
On the Rockets’ first possession of the third, the team chewed up more than five minutes of the clock, capping the 81-yard drive with a two-yard dive by Hunter Luepke.
Next was Andreae’s part.
Stratford was punting deep in its own end and Andreae bolted through the line untouched and blocked the punt, sending it into the end zone. Fellow senior Ryan Busse jumped on the loose ball for the touchdown, making it 24-0 with 3:21 left in the quarter
“I just kind of ran my guy over and got a hand on the ball,” Andreae said. “I couldn’t get to it on the ground so I tipped it to Busse and he jumped on it for the touchdown. We got excited and went after them.”
And before the quarter was over, linebacker Elijah Welsh bulled in for a four-yard score with 35 seconds left to put the Rockets up 30-0.
“We’ve had the ability to explode all season, it just took us a little longer in this game,” Gorst said. “We were able to make some huge plays.”
In the first half, the Tigers had forced two turnovers, but were not able to capitalize on either.
“We needed to score when we got those turnovers and we didn’t,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said. “They’re a great team, I’m sure you’re going to see them playing in Madison.”
Although down, Stratford was not out.
In the latter half of the fourth quarter, Taylor Krall broke loose for a 17-yard score with 5:42 left to play.
On their next possession, the Tigers showed some of their explosiveness. Starting at their own 49, Stratford used two big pass plays, a 27-yard reception to Jesse Dickman, followed by a 21-yard catch by Cole Hoffman to set up a first and 10 inside the Rockets’ 15.
Two plays later, Krall scored for the second time to narrow the gap to 30-15.
“Our guys never gave up and kept working hard,” Tubbs said. “They did work hard to be in the position of being one of the final eight teams playing in our division.”
S/C – Hunter Hildebrandt 10 run (Noah Zastrow run), 5:56
S/C – Hunter Luepke 2 run (Luepke run), 5:02
S/C – Ryan Busse fumble recovery in end zone (Zastrow run), 3:21
S/C – Elijah Welsh 4 run (Run failed), :35
S – Taylor Krall 17 run (Sam Wenzel run), 5:42
S – Krall 2 run (Dieter Vanhove kick), 3:27
Records: Spencer/Columbus 12-0; Stratford 9-3.
Mark Massoglia can be reached at 715-423-7200, ext. 4736 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @markmazzy.