The Spencer football team stunned the state and Bishop Heelan when they went to Sioux City in the regular season finale and beat the undefeated and No. 2-ranked Crusaders, 21-14, on Friday, Oct. 19. Spencer intercepted Heelan QB Trenton Solsma five times (he previously had thrown four all season) and forced a game-ending fumble to seal the win. The Tigers would go on to roll over ADM in the first round of the playoffs before giving Heelan another challenge less than two weeks later. Bishop Heelan made it to the 3A championship game but was beaten by Decorah.
(Photos by Michael Fischer)
Spencer went into Sioux City to face undefeated and second-ranked Bishop Heelan with nothing to lose. Already assured a spot in the playoffs, the Tigers set out to compete with a perennial powerhouse Friday, Oct. 19 at Memorial Field.
Not only did they compete with the Crusaders toe-to-toe, Spencer handed Heelan its first loss of the season by intercepting quarterback Trent Solsma five times in a 21-14 win.
The victory in the regular season finale puts Spencer at 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the district, which is third after a Carroll loss Friday night to Le Mars.
"It feels great," Spencer coach Jim Tighe said. "They're the elite program in northwest Iowa, and one of the best in the state. I'm proud of the way we came out and competed. It's always a feather in your cap when you can beat them. It's a big win for us but we know it's not all we want to do."
The playoffs start Wednesday night, Oct. 24, and Spencer will face ADM of Adel (6-3), the second-place team in 3A District 1, on the road. The winner of that game will play the winner of Heelan/Creston on Oct. 29.
The game didn't start out great for Spencer as they fumbled on the first play of the game, giving Heelan the ball in prime position. However, on Heelan's third play, Cody Mowery intercepted Solsma at the Spencer 14-yard-line to neutralize the Tiger miscue.
Spencer took advantage of the turnover, driving 86 yards to pay dirt, capped by a Blake Altenhofen 10-yard run and a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Austin Lauck busted a 44-yard run to spark the drive and move the Tigers into Heelan territory.
Heelan would have a 60-yard kickoff return called back due to a hold, but moved the ball down the field behind running back Manny Alcaraz on its next possession. On the drive's 10th play, Solsma would be intercepted for the second time, this time by Malik Rasch, who returned it 20 yards.
Spencer didn't do anything with the ball and punted it back to Heelan. The Crusaders moved into field goal position but missed on a 45-yard attempt, which Spencer allowed Heelan to down at the 1-yard-line.
The ensuing drive resulted in the most impressive offensive sequence of the night by the Tigers, as they drove the length of the field (99 yards) while eating up nearly six minutes of clock. Spencer converted a 3rd-and-11 in its own territory with a half-back pass from Altenhofen to Mowery to extend the drive. They finished it off with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Matt Finnern to Hunter Cushman slanting across the middle for a catch-and-run, which put the Tigers up 14-0.
Heelan answered the call with a no-huddle drive that saw Solsma go 8-for-10 passing as the Crusaders were able to get on the scoreboard with 15 seconds left in the half for a 14-7 halftime score.
Once again the Spencer defense held, forcing a punt that would lead to the Tigers' next scoring drive. Set up by a 32-yard run by Altenhofen, Finnern would keep the ball and score on a 15-yard touchdown run for the 21-7 lead just seconds into the fourth quarter.
Both Finnern and Lauck went over 100 yards in the game, with Altenhofen gaining over 50.
"We executed really well," Tighe said. "We put a lot in Finnern's hands with making calls at the line. He's such a smart player; it's like having another coach on the field. A lot of guys played their guts out tonight."
Solsma and Heelan would answer immediately as they again went to their no-huddle offense and marched down the field with passes to Philip Jacobson and Tyler Cropley. Solsma would connect with Jacobson on a 13-yard touchdown pass to make it a one-score game with 10 minutes remaining in the game, 21-14.
Spencer went 3-and-out on its next possession, giving Heelan an opening, but the Tiger defense once again stepped up with Trey Hookfin snagging the team's fourth interception.
"I can't say enough about how well our defense played," Tighe said.
Spencer was able to drain the clock down to 1:12 left in the game before having to punt it away, giving Heelan one final shot. After a completion and quarterback keeper, Heelan was at the Spencer 24-yard-line. Solsma completed a pass to Connor Spears but Altenhofen forced a fumble, which was recovered by Spencer.
After a kneel-down, Spencer had its upset, and will prepare for its first-round playoff game with the confidence of having just beaten one of 3A's best teams.
Finnern carried the ball 23 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. Lauck rushed 13 times for 101 yards, including runs of 44 and 19. Altenhofen had one touchdown on five rushes for 52 yards. Finnern was 1-for-6 passing for 31 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Solsma, who entered the game having completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and had thrown just four interceptions on the season, was 23-of-42 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. Jimmy Fitzsimmons made six catches. Alcaraz rushed 10 times for 51 yards.
Playoff football starts Wednesday across the state.