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Spartan explode for 31-7 win over Merrill

Superior High School's Jake Libal hauls in a 48-yard touchdown pass from Nick Mehlum in the first quarter of Friday night's 31-7 win over Merrill at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)1 / 17
Superior High School's Ross Kennelly runs in for a 55-yard touchdown pass from Nick Mehlum in the second quarter of Friday's game against Merrill at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)2 / 17
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The first show came courtesy of the Spartans, who exploded for a 31-7 victory over the Merrill Blue Jays. The second was an excellent firework display that put the finishing touches on a day-long celebration.

“We talked to the kids about making history and we wanted that history to be that the first football game played on this field was going to be a victory,” SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. “The kids came out and did just that. I’m very proud of them.”

Senior quarterback Nick Mehlum had a big game for the Spartans, throwing touchdown passes of 48, 55 and 88 yards to Jake Libal, Ross Kennelly and Beau Girard, respectively. Mitch Anderson added a 2-yard score and McKenzie Schwarz kicked a 25-yard field goal and four extra points.

 “It was an awesome night, it feels good,” Mehlum said. “We really have some athletes on this team, athletes that have some speed on the edge. They’re all going get open, it’s my job to get them the ball.”

The Spartans struck first on their first drive of the game when Libal got behind the Merrill defense and hauled in a 48-yard touchdown pass from Mehlum. Schwarz kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 2:26 left in the first quarter.

After each team failed to muster any kind of offense over the next 11 minutes, the Spartans took a 14-0 lead when Mehlum hooked up with Kennelly. Schwarz’s kick came with 1:07 left in the first half.

“It was a lot of fun (getting a chance on offense,” said Kennelly, the Spartans starting linebacker. “Coach called a fake jet, I faked in, hit him with a move and beat him deep. It was a nice throw.”

Merrill’s best drive of the first half came on the game’s opening drive when the Blue Jays put together a 17-play, 50-yard drive that stalled with a missed 40-yard field goal attempt. Back-to-back illegal motion penalties inside the Spartans’ 30-yard line didn’t help.

“That was kind of the name of the game tonight,” Merrill coach Nick Sturm said. “We kept beat ourselves. We’re young, but we can’t keep on making excuses, we have to step up and play well.

“I hope we learn a lot from this and I hope we come back more focused next week.”

The Spartans’ defense was up to the task after that holding Merrill to 54 more yards after the opening drive. Sparking the SHS defense were sacks by Joey Miller and Kyler Krob.

“Stopping them on that first drive was big, really big,” SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. “That just shows the heart and effort of our kids — they never give up.”

Superior took the second-half kickoff and was forced to punt after just four plays.

But the Spartans caught a break when Merrill fumbled the kick and Deshon Pleau recovered the ball on the 13-yard line. Five plays after that Schwarz kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Superior a 17-0 lead.

One play after stopping the Blue Jays at the 11-yard line, Girard and Mehlum hooked up on an 88-yard touchdown pass for a 24-0 lead with 1:55 left in the third quarter.

“The TD passes were all good plays that were well drawn out and we executed well,” Mehlum said. “But I have to say that the pass to Girard was the best. It was the longest and it was just a one-play drive.”

DeMeyer added that you have to give credit to the offensive line on the long touchdown passes.

“We’re fortunate that we have those kind of playmaker-type kids, but to make those plays the guys up front have to do their job, too,” DeMeyer said. “The pass protection was good and we were able to score a couple long touchdowns.

“I’m proud of our team’s effort and their heart, we have some special kids.”

Anderson’s touchdown gave Superior a 31-0 lead with 7:25 remaining.

Superior lost its shutout bid when Tyler Butler scored from 4 yards out with 5:03 remaining.

 “You always try for a shutout, but we can’t complain, a win is a win,” Kennelly said.

Merrill, which falls to 1-1 on the season, begins play in the Great Northern Conference next Friday at Rhinelander.

“What a beautiful facility,” Sturm said. “It’s a great place up here, I wish we could have a place like this. The atmosphere was great and we had a long trip, but mentally tough and focused teams can play in any situation.”

The Spartans begin Big Rivers Conference play by hosting Hudson at 7 p.m. Friday.

“We’re still making some early-season mistakes, fewer than last week, but we’ll fix them,” DeMeyer said. “We’re going to have to if we want to beat a very good Hudson team.”

SPARTAN SPIN: More than 1,100 tickets were pre-sold for Friday’s game. … One of Merrill’s assistant coaches was one of four 50-50 winners. ... The postgame fireworks were provided free of charge by KG Fireworks of South Range.

Merrill........................................ 0          0           0           7    —                   7

Superior.................................... 7          7          10          7    —                   31

First Quarter

SHS—Jake Libal 48-yard pass from Nick Mehlum (McKenzie Schwarz kick), 2:26. (7-0)

Second Quarter

SHS—Ross Kennelly 55-yard pass from Mehlum (Schwarz kick), 1:07. (14-0)

Third Quarter

SHS—Schwarz, 25-yard field goal, 7:42. (17-0)

SHS—Beau Girard 88-yard pass from Mehlum (Schwarz kick), 1:55. (24-0)

Fourth Quarter

SHS—Mitch Anderson 2-yard run (Schwarz kick), 7:25 (31-0)

M—Tyler Butler 4-yard run (Trey Stevenson kick), 5:03. (31-7)

                                                     M                   SHS

First downs.............................. 15                      9

Total Net Yards...................... 261                   387

Rushes-yards........................ 57-250             30-117

Passing yards.......................... 11                    270

Comp.-Att.-Int...................... 3-8-0               11-170

Punt Returns............................ 1-0                  1-11

Kickoff Returns....................... 6-83                 1-12

Sacks.......................................... 1                       2

Punts...................................... 3-26.3               4-29.5

Fumbles-Lost.......................... 1-1                   0-0

Penalties-Yards...................... 4-23                 6-39

Time of Possession.............. 24:59                24:01

———

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Merrill, Wyatt Strombom 18-64; Mason Reinhardt 13-62; Tyler Butler 3-51; Lucas Lee 7-39; Scott Wallace 6-22; Austin Reissmann 1-7; Drew Hoff 9-5. Superior, Mitch Anderson 9-30; Ross Kennelly 3-26; Nick Mehlum 8-25; Jake Libal 5-17; Grant Hanson 2-11; Jon Cronin 1-8; Zach Tharge 1-1; Gunnar Johnson 1-(-1).

PASSING—Merrill, Hoff 3-8-11. Superior, Mehlum 11-17-270.

RECEIVING—Merrill, Jake Anderson 2-10; Reinhardt 1-1. Superior, Hanson 5-33; Libal 2-60; Beau Girard 2-91; Ross Kennelly 1-55; Anderson 1-31.

Defense

Merrill

Scott Arneson................................................................ 1

Adam Messerschmidt.................................................. 7

Chaz Mootz................................................................... 3

Troy Pike........................................................................ 1

Trey Stevenson.............................................................. 4

Tyler Butler..................................................................... 3

Mason Reinhardt........................................................... 2

Jake Nohr....................................................................... 4

Jake Collinsworth......................................................... 6

Riley Pikus...................................................................... 1

Christine Kleinschmidt................................................. 1

Dustin Dengel................................................................ 5

Seth Tautges.................................................................. 7

Total............................................................................... 46

Superior

.................................................. Tot     Solo    Asst.

Ross Kennelly........................... 12         9           3

Blake Sharpe............................. 1          1           0

Beau Girard............................... 3          3           0

Max Plunkett............................. 1          1           0

Beau Reder................................ 4          2           2

Garrett Hobson........................ 7          5           2

Deshon Pleau............................ 1          0           0

Jake Libal................................... 1          1           0

Grant Hanson............................ 4          2           2           

Daniel Burger............................ 1          1           0

Zach Tharge.............................. 2          2           0

Robert Rhea.............................. 1          1           0

Jesse Polson............................. 8          6           2

Matt Hinaus............................... 4          3           1

Kyler Krob................................. 6          5           1

Josiah McDonald..................... 3          3           0

Joey Miller................................. 5          2           3

Bronson Anthony...................... 9          8           1

Connor Gray............................. 1          1           0

Total......................................... 79        61         18

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