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November 15, 2012 | 10:21 PMMADISON - Their backs were against the wall. And there was no room for error.
Thursday night in the WIAA Division 4 state title game at Camp Randall Stadium, the Big Foot football team came all the way back, only to have its fate decided on one last play.
After falling into a 21-6 hole, the Chiefs fought back to tie the game at 27-27 and send it into overtime. But after Somerset scored first and converted a two-point conversion, the pressure was on the Walworth boys.
Big Foot's Mason Dixon scored on a swing pass to cut it to 35-33, then the Gold Ball hung in the balance on a two-point play.
Carter Hehr rolled to his right with the option to run or pass and put it on the money to Brandon Hausner.
However, Somerset timed the hit just right and broke up the play.
Several shocked Chiefs fell to the turf canvas while Somerset players sprinted to midfield in celebration, and the Spartans escaped with a 35-33 overtime victory one year after losing the state final in double overtime.
"I love this team, I really do," said Big Foot coach Rodney Wedig. "We fought with a good, veteran team. I'm proud of these guys. In a couple weeks, I'll look back at this season. It's amazing what we did."
"I can proudly say that I left everything on this field tonight," said Big Foot quarterback Carter Hehr, who had 194 total yards, three touchdowns, a blocked extra point and a fumble recovery.
The final play was the definition of a bang-bang play, as Hausner's feet were inches inside the pile-on. Had the ball been caught, it would've sent the game into double overtime, but the Spartans read it perfectly.
"It's a throw-run option," Wedig said. "They did a really good job of sitting a guy in the flat so Carter couldn't run. He's gotta make that pass. It's a game of inches. We executed the game plan, but they were just a little bit better than us tonight. There isn't any one thing I can point to. It was one heck of a football game between two very good teams. If you play this game 10 times, it's going to be five and five. You could literally pick 12 plays from this game, and say if it went this way, a different team wins."
What ended as a back-and-forth barn-burner began with a Somerset flurry. Dixon, who led the Chiefs with 166 yards rushing, capped off Big Foot's opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Chiefs a 6-0 lead, but the Spartans answered with 21 straight points. Quarterback Tyler Ledbeter, who battled flu-like symptoms all day, was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half.
His 46-yard touchdown run made it 7-6 Somerset, then he followed it up with a 13-yard fade pass to the right corner of the end zone to extend the lead to 14-6 with nine minutes left in the first half. Receiver Gaelin Elmore leapt and wrestled the ball away from a Big Foot defender.
Finally, Ledbeter, who finished with 159 rushing yards and three scores, gave Somerset a comfortable lead at 21-6 with less than a minute to play in the first half. He rolled left and broke two Big Foot tackles before cutting back and waltzing to pay dirt on a shifty 51-yard run.
But Big Foot, which had run a no-huddle offense all half long, executed its two-minute offense perfectly. Hehr worked his magic, completing passes of 19 yards to Daniel Pierce and 20 yards to Matt Ripkey to set up an eventual first-and-goal at the Somerset 4 with 3 seconds left.
After a timeout, Hehr rolled left, kept it and nose-dived into the end zone for the score despite taking a vicious blow from two defenders.
Behind 21-13 at the half, Big Foot's momentum continued in the third quarter. The Chief defense came up with a big stuff on fourth-and-2, yielding a Somerset punt. On the ensuing Big Foot possession, Big Foot needed only five plays to go 69 yards for the touchdown. Dixon notched 64 yards on the ground, including a 20-yarder with 5:46 remaining to cut the margin to 21-20.
Big Foot was able to contain Ledbeter and fullback Vernon Breault in order to give it back to the offense.
"We adjusted as much as we could defensively," Wedig said. "I knew this wasn't a good matchup defensively. We finally got a stop in the third quarter."
On Somerset's next drive, on third-and-5 at the Big Foot 32, Big Foot blew up a run at the line of scrimmage. A big hit forced a fumble, and Hehr recovered.
However, the Chiefs gave the ball right back to the Spartans two plays later, and Somerset was in business inside the Big Foot 10.
The Chiefs buckled down, but Breault, who finished with a game-high 204 rushing yards, punched it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 7:59 to play. Hehr busted through the line and blocked the extra point, making it 27-20.
"I made a crucial mistake inside our own 10-yard line, which gave them the ball," Hehr said. "You just can't do that."
Big Foot got back on track on its next drive. Hehr hit Gus Wedig for a 15-yard gain to enter the Somerset red zone, and on the next play, he scooted left and dove into the end zone for an 11-yard score, completing the comeback at 27-27.
Somerset had one last chance. Tough running from Breault and a 14-yard slant pass on fourth-and-4 to Elmore set the Spartans up at the Big Foot 24 with 18 seconds to play.
They advanced to the 19 before attempting a 36-yard field goal with 2 seconds on the clock. Gus Wedig failed to get a push but extended his massive paw and swatted the ball, and Hehr recovered to send the game into overtime.
"Everyone wanted it just as much as the next person," said Dixon, who was named the state's offensive player of the year Wednesday. "We played with a lot of heart."
The extra frame meant more of the same for Somerset, which started with the ball. Big Foot won the coin toss but let its defense set the tone. The Spartans dominated time of possession by a margin of 32 minutes to only 14 and continued their methodical movement down the field.
It took six plays for the Spartans to tally the go-ahead score, a five-yard scamper by Ledbetter to make it 33-27. Robert LeRoy walked into the end zone on the two-point conversion, and Big Foot had its hands full.
"They're built for a short field in overtime," Rodney Wedig said. "I knew we would have to stop a two-point conversion. We didn't do a very good job stopping that two-point play."
Somerset's decision to go for two neutralized one of Big Foot's biggest assets, kicker Ian Gallagher, who had helped the Big Foot comeback with deep kickoffs including a touchback. Gallagher's strategic kicks forced Somerset to start at the 1, 20 and 8-yard line on three possessions. Wedig said it would have been ideal to use Gallagher for a field goal in the extra frame, but he had to summon his staff for its best two-point play after Somerset struck first.
Big Foot faced a third-and-5 on its overtime possession, and Hehr rolled to the right. The Somerset defender stayed with the tight end, so Hehr dumped the ball to Dixon, who maneuvered his way into the end zone for a 19-yard score.
Hehr corralled a high snap on the two-point conversion and rolled right with the option to pass or run.
"We stepped up all game and made plays when we needed to, except for the last play of the game," Hehr said. "That's why we lost."
Big Foot finished as a D4 state runner-up for the second time in five years.
Hehr finished 7-of-9 passing with 129 yards. Ripkey caught two balls for 54 yards to lead the Chiefs.
"We fought back and that was heart," Hehr said. "Fatigue has nothing to do with this. They are a heck of a team. We have been a great team all year, and we have great leadership. Our heart was ridiculous."
Gus Wedig paced the squad with 20 tackles. Hehr added 16, and Collin Frederick had 15. Garett Cary, who along with Dixon was named first team all-state by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association, had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
Somerset totaled more than 400 rushing yards and out-gained Big Foot overall, 430-332.
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