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First round test gets SCC football team ready for Somerset

St. Croix Central quarterback Austin Kopacz (11) breaks to the outside for good yardage in Friday's win over Adams-Friendship. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

The final score was 42-0, but through much of the first half on Friday, the Adams-Friendship football team gave the undefeated St. Croix Central Panthers a full-scale battle.

And over the long range of things, that may be just what the Panthers needed. Central won the Division 4 opener, moving them into a second round rematch with Somerset that will be played on the Panthers' home field at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.

Central and Somerset have a lengthy playoff history. Between 2008 and 2015, St. Croix Central and Somerset met six times in the Division 4 playoff bracket. Somerset won the first five of those clashes, with Central breaking the Spartans' dominance in 2015. Between Central head coach Tony DiSalvo and Somerset head coach Bruce Larson, there is more than 40 years of head coaching experience and their teams have met at least once in nearly every season since they've been head coaches.

DiSalvo said the Panther coaches have a great deal of respect for Somerset's coaches and he expects Friday's game to be a battle to the finish. DiSalvo said Central will need to play better than it did against Adams-Friendship if it hopes to overcome Somerset for a second time this season. Central beat Somerset 42-24 two weeks ago. It was the closest game of the season thus far for the 10-0 Panthers.

The Panther offense may have had some rough patches in Friday's game, but the defense was certainly playoff ready. The Panthers held Adams-Friendship to 27 total yards of offense. The Central pass defense completely frustrated Adams-Friendship, limiting the Green Devils to seven completions in 26 attempts. Two of those passes were intercepted by Central safety Austin Kopacz.

It was offensively where the Panthers weren't at their sharpest. They fumbled the ball away twice in the first half and they struggled to get the ball outside all night.

"We didn't block particularly well in the first half," DiSalvo said. "We'll have to shore up a couple things in the blocking scheme."

While the Panther running attack has usually been a three-pronged system this season, only fullback Ryan Larson was able to get rolling. He went over the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career with the 121 yards he gained on Friday. Larson had a pair of 35-yard runs in the first half. In both instances, it appeared the Adams-Friendship defense had him stopped, but he continued to drive his legs and break the grasp of the tacklers.

With the windy conditions the Panthers didn't need to pass often Friday. They did hit one critical pass. With Adams-Friendship doing everything it could to take away the run, Kopacz found tight end Derek Myer with a short pass. Myer skirted his way down the sideline for 42 yards, setting up the first Central touchdown.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.

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