Wisniewski, Spartans knock out Central
In a heavyweight bout reminiscent of Frazier and Ali, Sparta and La Crosse Central exchanged plenty of punches on the gridiron Friday night.
It was an epic battle from the start, but Sparta landed the first punch and the last to outduel the Red Raiders 38-33.
Sparta forced an early Central turnover when Cole Wisniewski stripped the ball from Red Raider receiver Terrance Thompson after a catch along the sidelines.
Sparta recovered the fumble and Corbin Hauser made Central pay with a 75-yard touchdown run on the Spartan’s first play from scrimmage.
Chris Jacobs booted the extra point to give Sparta a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the first quarter.
Sparta forced a punt on the Red Raiders’ next possession, and Wisniewski followed on the ensuing drive by breaking free for a 52-yard touchdown run.
Another Jacobs extra point gave the Spartans a 14-0 lead with 5:35 left in the opening quarter.
Central drove deep into Sparta territory on its next drive, but the Spartan defense stepped up and forced a Red Raider turnover on downs.
Sparta continued to click on offense with a drive into Red Raider territory that ended with a 35-yard field goal by Jacobs, putting the Spartans on top 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
After another Central punt, Wisniewski ripped off a 74-yard run to the Central 18-yard line and a Red Raider penalty put the ball inside the 10.
The drive stalled, however, and another Jacobs field goal attempt sailed just left of the upright, leaving Central with the ball on its own 20-yard line.
The Red Raiders made the best of the final minutes of the quarter, capping off a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run by Johnny Davis as the half ended to cut the deficit to 17-6 at the break.
“In the second quarter, if we had turned one of those field goal attempts into a touchdown, it may have been a different second half,” said Sparta head coach Adam Dow.
The Spartans and Red Raiders continued to duke it out in the second half.
Central struck first in the third quarter, scoring on a nine-yard run by Davis and tacking on a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 17-14 midway through the frame.
Less than two minutes later, Wisniewski capped off a Sparta scoring drive with an eight-yard touchdown run and Jacobs nailed the extra point to give the Spartans a 24-14 lead.
Central answered with a long drive of its own, scoring another TD when Andrew Winkers recovered a Red Raider fumble in the end zone cut the deficit to 24-21 heading into the final frame.
Wisniewski scored again, this time on a two-yard run on the opening play of the fourth quarter and a Jacobs extra point put Sparta on top by 10 at 31-21.
Just over two minutes later, Davis hooked up with Peter Fleming on a 27-yard touchdown pass to trim the Sparta lead to 31-27.
Sparta punched back three minutes later on a 47-yard touchdown run by Nick Kent.
Jacobs booted his fifth straight extra point to increase the Sparta lead to 38-27 with 6:44 remaining in the game.
The Red Raiders answered just over a minute later, when Davis tossed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Porter Pretasky.
Central’s two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving Sparta with a 38-33 advantage with just over five minutes left on the clock.
The Red Raiders followed with an onside kick attempt, but it was recovered by Sparta’s Ethan Krueger.
Central’s defense stepped up, however, forcing a Sparta punt, but punter Tye Klass came through for the Spartans with a 57-yard boot that pinned the Red Raiders on their own six-yard line.
The Red Raiders moved the ball past midfield with a couple of big completions by Davis, but Klass delivered the final blow to Central when he recovered a fumble on the third play of the drive.
“In the second half, Central gained some momentum and it turned into a back-and-forth game. Our defense was able to come up with a huge turnover and our offense made a couple of first downs to run the clock out,” offered Dow.
“It was an extremely physical game and our kids really showed a lot of heart,” he continued. “I was just really happy for the kids and happy for the community on parents night and senior night.”
Dow said the win was a true team effort.
“We had a lot of guys step up and make some key plays to make us victorious. When you have two players like that (Wisniewski and Davis), they’ll get their yards, but it comes down to the supporting cast,” he said.
Sparta finished with 498 total yards, including 405 on the ground and 93 through the air, while Central racked up 523 yards – 380 passing and 143 rushing.
Wisniewski carried the ball 24 times for 250 yards and three touchdowns to lead Sparta’s rushing attack, while Hauser had 80 yards and a touchdown on three carries and Kent finished with 72 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
Through the air, Wisniewski completed six of 13 passes for 93 yards.
Matt Biever had three catches for 35 yards, Hauser caught two passes for 29 yards and Abe Edie finished with one reception for 37 yards.
Davis had a big night for the Red Raiders, completing 25 of 40 passes for 380 yards and two TDs, while Thompson finished with a dozen catches for 172 yards.
The win, Sparta’s sixth of the season, could go a long way in helping the Spartans earn a home game in the playoffs.
“I think we’ve done enough to this point, but you never know,” said Dow on the possibility of a playoff game in Sparta. “That’s our job over the next two weeks – we need to continue to perform at our top level.”
Sparta improved to 4-1 in MVC action and 6-1 overall with the win.
The Spartan gridders are back in action Friday night, when they travel to Holmen to take on the Vikings in a 7 p.m. conference contest at Empire Stadium.