High flyers: Spencer/Columbus Rockets prepare for possible playoff run
By Paul Lecker
SPENCER — The Spencer/Columbus Catholic football team is going to run the ball. That is no secret. However, with the loss of two-time 1,000-yard rusher Noah Zastrow, the Rockets will have to find some new guys to step in to the backfield alongside senior Hunter Luepke.
Luepke, a North Dakota State University recruit and three-time all-Cloverbelt Conference player, put up 1,057 yards rushing, 226 yards receiving, and 20 total touchdowns a year ago despite missing three games with an injury.
Gone are Zastrow’s 1,800 total yards, which included more than 200 yards passing as he shared time at quarterback, but there are a number of Rockets ready to step up their play to try to fill the void.
“We have some very good running backs that we’ll plug in,” Spencer/Columbus coach Jason Gorst said. “Noah was an all-state player, a great athlete. He played a position kind of unique to him, but we have some good running backs that will help balance that out.
“Jacob Miller, senior, saw a fair amount of time last year. Carson Hildebrandt started as a fullback last year. He’s in the mix too for carries. Adam Walter; Bubba Post; Hayden Bauman, a sophomore, are in big position battles in camp. We’re trying to figure out (the) best combination.”
A year after reaching the WIAA Division 5 state finals, which it lost to Amherst, Spencer/Columbus finished last season 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the always tough Cloverbelt Conference. The Rockets were bounced in the second round of the playoffs by Amherst, which went on to capture its second-straight D-5 state title.
The Rockets also lost three starting offensive linemen, including all-region and all-conference player Max Johnson, but do return a pair of starters. Junior Logan Zschernitz and senior Nick Hutchison are back to anchor the line and lead the way for the Rockets’ rushing attack.
“It’s the biggest question,” Gorst said of the offensive line. “We feel like we have a lot of good kids there, a lot of competition for those spots, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it’s going to shake out. I think we’ll be OK there. It’s just who’s going to be in what spot.”
Jarred Mandel, a junior, will be the full-time quarterback after sharing snaps with Zastrow last season. Mandel threw for 736 yards and 15 touchdowns and is ready for the season to begin.
“It’s been really exciting,” Mandel said. “Everybody has been ready this entire offseason to get back out here. I learned a lot last year from Noah Zastrow. Playing with a lot of the older guys, I learn a lot more stuff, and it gives me a great opportunity.
“I think we’ll have another good year. Every year is a tossup, and I think we’ll do pretty well again.”
Hildebrandt is the Rockets’ top returning tackler and was a first-team all-Cloverbelt pick at linebacker. He will be joined by a stout line led by Zschernitz and Luepke alongside him at linebacker.
“We’re one of those that aspire to be a playoff team and possibly then some,” Gorst said. “We play in one of the toughest conferences in the state. I think we can compete with Stanley-Boyd and (Eau Claire) Regis. Fall Creek is a team that is going to be a breakout team. Colby played us very well last year. We’re in that mix. With small-school football, injuries are a big part of that. If we can stay injury free, we’ll be in the mix with those teams.”
Luepke is keeping things in perspective as the Rockets open their season Aug. 18 at Osseo-Fairchild.
“We don’t know until we get to Friday nights,” Luepke said. “Like coach always says, ‘We haven’t won a game yet. We have to earn it.’ We have to practice hard every day.”
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com.)
2017 SPENCER/COLUMBUS FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
|Fri., Aug. 18||at Osseo-Fairchild||7 p.m.|
|Thur., Aug. 24||FALL CREEK||7 p.m.|
|Fri., Sept. 1||at Stanley-Boyd||7 p.m.|
|Fri., Sept. 8||NEILLSVILLE/GRANTON||7 p.m.|
|Fri., Sept. 15||COLBY||7 p.m.|
|Fri., Sept. 22||at Cadott||7 p.m.|
|Thur., Sept. 28||at Eau Claire Regis (Carson Park)||7 p.m.|
|Fri., Oct. 6||*ALTOONA||7 p.m.|
|Fri., Oct. 13||°at Glenwood City||7 p.m.|
Home games in CAPS, at Fritsch Field, Spencer High School, except *at Beell Stadium, Marshfield (Columbus Catholic Homecoming)