The Wauwatosa Spartans Football Club clinched first place in the Ironman Football League's American Conference by winning a defensive battle, 17-12, over the Southern Lakes Blue Devils on Saturday at Wisconsin Lutheran College's Raabe Field.
The Blue Devils (5-1) possessed a better overall record coming into the game than the Spartans, but the Spartans held a 3-0 conference mark, while the Devils sat at 2-1.
After a conservative first series, the Spartans' offense needed only three plays for the game's first score. Quarterback Tony Henner dropped back to pass, then found wide receiver Raymon Porchia over the middle who ran untouched for a 75-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Blue Devils answered right back with a 55-yard touchdown drive, capped with a 25-yard run by running back Jamie Marton, to make it 7-6 after a botched extra point.
"I thought that first touchdown to Porchia might break the game open a little bit," Wauwatosa Spartans head coach Brandy Spoerl said. "But then to their credit, they came right back and scored to take away the momentum."
After a good kick return by cornerback Nate Heard, the Spartans began another scoring drive from their own 40 yard line. It culminated in a 25-yard field goal by kicker Charlie Henke, making it 10-6. The Blue Devils looked to answer again, but the drive was stopped when cornerback Dave Earl came down with an interception, and returned it 15 yards, giving the Spartans the ball at their own 35 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the half.
A series of rushes by Spartans running back Bobby Windom, and catches by Porchia and wide receiver Greg Rebella saw the Spartans sitting inside the Blue Devils five-yard line with 45 seconds to work with. Henner again dropped back to pass, but this time saw Blue Devil cornerback Kevin Barrett step in front of the intended receiver for an interception in the end zone.
With 40 seconds still remaining before the half, the Blue Devils offense wasn't content with taking a knee, and drove frantically down the field and was quickly into scoring position. But the threat was extinguished when Heard intercepted a pass at the goal line as time expired.
At the start of the third quarter, the Spartans offense managed little with its first possession, and had to punt the ball away. On the punt, the Southern Lakes' returner mishandled the ball, which was promptly recovered by Greg Rebella at the Blue Devils 25 yard line. From there, Windom pounded the ball to the one on consecutive runs, setting up a first and goal. From there, Henner called his own number and snuck in for a 17-6 lead.
But the Blue Devils rallied again, and drove down the field with a series of long runs by Marton, only to come up short when a field goal attempt sailed wide right. The teams went then went back and forth with three consecutive punts, as both defenses dug in.
However, offensive penalties backed the Spartans to inside their own 10-yard line on their last punt, resulting in the Blue Devils getting excellent field position at the 50, with six minutes left in the game.
Southern Lakes took advantage and put together a quick scoring drive, with Marton running in from 15 yards out for the score, and tightening the Spartan lead 17-12. The Blue Devils elected to go for two, but the attempt was stopped.
With over four minutes still remaining, the Spartans needed to put together one last drive to cement the win. Thing didn't start well when a penalty on the kickoff saw their drive start at their own 10-yard line.
Spoerl called on fullback Timmy Beuth, who rushed six straight times, getting two first downs to keep the chains moving and the clock running. The Spartans were able to take a knee and watch the clock run out to hold on for a win.
The Spartan offense has been efficient in recent weeks, a trend that continued on Saturday night, and was also able to dominate time of possession.
Henner was 8-for-15 for 198 yards, one interception and had a passing and rushing touchdown. His top target was, as usual, Porchia, who grabbed five catches for 127 yards and one touchdown. The Spartans' running game was key and Windom punished the Blue Devils to the tune of 20 rushes for 94 yards. On defense, the Spartans produced turnovers, with a fumble recovery on a punt and two interceptions. Cornerbacks Earl and Heard each grabbed an interception and Rebella added the fumble recovery on the punt. Defensive end Justin Morrow registered the night's only sack.
"The temptation is to now shut it down the next two weeks leading into the playoffs since we have everything secured," Spoerl said. "But we don't want to lose all our momentum, so that's not the plan at all."
The Spartans improved to 6-2 overall, 5-2 in IFL play, while riding a three-game winning streak. Wauwatosa travels across town to Hart Park at 7 p.m. Saturday to face the Milwaukee Venom (1-6).
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