Rapids spoils SPASH homecoming in overtime thriller


The Mirror reporter

The sounds of large crowds of fans could be heard quite far from Goerke Memorial Park on a crisp fall night on Sept. 23. The unbeaten SPASH Panthers hosted the 4-1 Wisconsin Rapids Red Raiders in a battle for the Ole River Jug, a jug that hadn’t been taken home to Rapids since 2011.

It was a pretty huge game for both teams as the Panthers looked to remain perfect in the season and the Red Raiders could even up with the Panthers in the Wisconsin Valley Conference standings with a win. It couldn’t have been a bigger game for midway through the season on the Panthers homecoming night.

The first half of the game was all Red Raiders, to the home crowd’s disbelief. With Rapids tallying seven points on the 11th play of the first drive of the game off of a screen pass to Austin Glinski from quarterback Ben Olson. After that, the rest of the quarter was rather quiet with no scoring on either side.

The Panthers were looking out of sorts, to say the least, making no progress with a three-and-out and a fumble in this quarter from halfback Gus Turner-Zick who started off cold along with the rest of the Panther’s team.

The Raiders started getting hot in the second quarter after scoring their second touchdown of the night. The touchdown, capping off a 59-yard drive, was a four-yard punch-in from Rapids’ freshman Austin Pelot.

The Panthers received the ball after the score and continued to struggle, heading three-and-out once more. The Raiders took advantage of the momentum they had over the Panthers, scoring on the first play after the punt on a 77-yard pass from Olson to Glinski with 9:11 remaining on the second quarter play clock.

Despite being down 21-0, the Panthers looked for any opportunity they could find. Even though they couldn’t score on the ensuing drive, you could tell that the Panthers were getting something going, picking up their first two first downs of the night. The Raiders continued their first half success with an 82-yard drive capped off by a 12-yard slant from Olson to Isaiah Westfall, who split between two defenders to cross the goal line and make the game 28-0 after Keegan Hewitt’s fourth extra point leaving 23 seconds remaining in the half.

At this point, the home fans were stunned and losing hope in their undefeated Panthers’ comeback chances. Then their team shocked hope into its fans by driving down the field in two plays: a 47-yard run by Turner-Zick and a 28-yard pass reception by Colton Kizewski from Beau Rosenthal as the half expired.

The third quarter continued right where the game left off: high scoring. SPASH took their first drive all the way down the field and finished it off with a 12-yard pass from Rosenthal to all six feet and eight inches of wide receiver Joey Hauser with 9:44 remaining in the third quarter. This put the Panthers behind two touchdowns after previously being down four touchdowns, seconds before halftime. The comeback had noticeably begun.

The momentum had surely shifted after a stop by the Panthers’ defense, leading to an increase of volume in the home stands. Following the defensive stop, SPASH drove down the field and ended on tough two-yard run from Turner-Zick, making it a one possession game after 6:53 has already run off of the third quarter clock.

After another great stop by the Panthers’ defense, they got the ball and “GTZ” took over. Turner-Zick had a 56-yard rushing touchdown on the third play of the drive to even the game up after Joey Dorgan’s fourth extra point of the night and roughly two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Heading into the fourth, it was a whole new ball game again after the Panthers exploded in the third quarter with 21 points to answer the Raiders’ outburst in the second quarter. It was Rapids who struck first in the showdown, wasting clock on a long drive and finishing the clock-melting drive on another touchdown pass to Westfall, this one from nine yards out.

This drive left the Panthers seven minutes to link the scores again, which they did after Turner-Zick squeezed his way through the big men and into the end zone for his third and undoubtedly, most important touchdown. This would be the final touchdown of regulation as the SPASH defense caused a three and out and then kneeled the ball to head into overtime.

In overtime, SPASH won the coin toss and ended up choosing to take the ball first. It seemed that all the magic they gained throughout the second half had disappeared as they barely got inside the 30 yard line and eventually got stopped on fourth down. After the Raiders stopped the Panthers’ offense, they took over from the 35-yard-line and eventually had Isaac Pelot grind through the line for a walk-off touchdown to upset the undefeated Panthers.

Quarterback Olson had an impressive statline. He  completed 17 passes on 23 attempts for 294 passing yards along with three touchdowns. Without him and the gifted hands of his receivers Glinski and Westfall it could’ve been a whole different game the way Turner-Zick started running the ball.  He ended the game with 316 rushing yards and three touchdowns with his only blemish being a fumble coming in the Panthers’ ugly first quarter.

It was a tough battle between these two rivals on a very important night for both teams. The win now gives the Red Raiders the advantage over the Panthers if they end up having the same record at the end of the year. Along with that, they are taking the Ole River Jug back to Rapids, a place the jug hasn’t resided since 2011, a place it will reside for at least a year after this bittersweet comeback attempt falls short.