FOOTBALL PREVIEW: KEY PLAYERS RETURN FOR SPENCER/COLUMBUS IN FINAL CLOVERBELT SEASON
By Paul Lecker
For Zaleski Sports
SPENCER – Spencer/Columbus Catholic lost a lot of high-quality talent from last year’s team that finished 11-2 and advanced to the WIAA Division 5 state semifinals.
Gone are Cloverbelt Conference Offensive Player of the Year Logan Zschernitz, a fixture on the line on both sides of the ball the past three seasons, three-year starting quarterback Jarred Mandel, stellar linebacker/running back Carson Hildebrandt, and a host of others that helped the Rockets win a lot of games during the past four years.
The exodus of a great senior class leaves a void for sure, but the Rockets are also well stocked in a number of key spots.
Spencer/Columbus opens its season against the same team that ended its run a year ago, Stratford. The Rockets beat Stratford in the season opener a year ago, only to see the Tigers pull out a win in Level 4 of the playoffs and advance to the state finals in Madison. The two teams, who both will be moving into the Central Wisconsin Conference next year in football, will play at Stratford on Friday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on WOSQ-FM 92.3 and wdlbwosq.com, and will be streamed live on zaleskisports.com.
“I think it’s a great atmosphere for both towns,” Spencer/Columbus coach Jason Gorst said regarding the opener. “There’s probably not a place you’d rather be on a Friday night if you’re a football fan. We’re excited for the game. We know they are very talented, very big and strong, they’re very deep and very physical. It will definitely be a good litmus test for where we are early in the season.”
Spencer/Columbus returns its two top ball carriers and pass catchers in running backs Austin Bacon and Hayden Bauman.
Bacon ran for 802 yards and 12 touchdowns, and caught 31 passes for another 508 yards and 10 scores a year ago. Bauman rushed for 764 yards and 11 touchdowns, and had 23 receptions for 352 yards and five touchdowns.
While the quarterback will be different, as Tyson McDonald and Gage Stratman remain in a battle for the starting spot, the returning productivity from the backfield will be a big plus for the Rockets.
Gorst said the overall numbers in the program are up, creating needed depth throughout the lineup.
“We will be smaller, but still have some decent size,” Gorst said. “We have great experience there. We like the depth we have and the competitive environment we have here. We have two guys at every position, sometimes three, so we have guys really competing for that spot.”
Defensively, Bacon and Bauman lead a group with a lot of experience and past success.
Bauman had 73 tackles, three interceptions, eight quarterback sacks and returned two fumbles for touchdowns as an outside linebacker in 2018. Bacon, a safety, had 54 tackles, and middle linebacker Andres Rodriguez also returns after piling up 52 tackles last year.
Gavid Kilty and Austin Grubofski will be the mainstays on the defensive line, and junior Eden Jacobson joins Bauman at the outside linebacker position.
One reason the Rockets feel that they will be competitive again in the Cloverbelt and could make another strong postseason run is the experience all of the younger players have been able to get on the field throughout the years.
A lot of big, early leads have turned into blowout wins, allowing the freshmen and sophomores to earn valuable playing time at the varsity level.
“As a freshman we made it to Level 2 of the playoffs, when you’re playing a team that you’re up on, and you can get some guys in, it does wonders,” Bauman said of his past experience. “I learned so much from playing the second half of some of those games and was able to start the last three or four games that year. Scout team is a big deal too during the week. The scout team players, the freshmen and sophomores, all have a big role to fill replicating the other team’s offense and that helps everybody learn as well.”
2019 Spencer/Columbus Catholic Football Schedule
Fri., Aug. 23 at Stratford, 7 p.m. (nc)
Fri., Aug. 30 at Osseo-Fairchild, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 6 FALL CREEK, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 13 at Stanley-Boyd, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 20 NEILLSVILLE/GRANTON, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 27 COLBY, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 4 at Cadott, 7 p.m.
Thur., Oct. 10 at Eau Claire Regis, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 18 ALTOONA, 7 p.m.
Home games in CAPS, at Spencer High School