BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – The last time the Eau Claire Memorial Old Abes came to Bay Port, they left with a WIAA D1 playoff victory.
The No. 3 ranked Pirates hope to avoid that this time around.
Since that 29-0 loss to Memorial in 2015, Bay Port has gone 20-1. The two teams will battle again this Friday, Oct. 20, at Bay Port High School in a 7:00 WIAA Level 1 playoff game. The winner will advance to play the winner of Hudson/Stevens Point Friday, Oct. 27.
“To be honest, we haven’t even brought that game up as coaches,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman about the loss to Memorial in ‘15. “We really don’t have any guys on this team that contributed much that year, so I don’t think it means much. That season was different than this one. We had just lost to De Pere (their last FRCC loss) to end the season and we were having trouble moving the ball offensively.”
The No. 1 seeded Pirates are coming off another undefeated Fox River Classic Conference season where they led the league in scoring (47 points per game) and points allowed (14.4 ppg). In the process, they became the first FRCC team in history to win back-to-back titles and broke the all-time consecutive wins streak, which will be 18 conference games in a row and counting going into next season.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us,” said Memorial head coach Mike Sinz via phone about playing the Pirates. “Bay Port is extremely athletic – probably the most athletic team we will face all year. Their speed and size is overwhelming.
“We obviously respect Bay Port, their team and their program – they have things rolling up there; but our kids are going to compete, no question.”
The No. 8 seed Old Abes (6-3) play in the Big Rivers Conference with the likes of state-ranked Menomonie, Hudson and Rice Lake, so their competition is legitimate. Memorial lost to all three of those teams by a combined 89-28 margin and finished fourth in the conference.
“I don’t think there’s a better eight seed than (Memorial) in the state when you turn the tape on,” Westerman said. “They are a really big, physical team. They have a kid (Cormac Sampson) going to (UW) Madison and another big kid (Jack Kern) up front. Their running backs run hard and their line comes off fast. They are well coached and they really try to be more physical than you, so I think it’s going to be a tall test. They are going to give us all we can handle, so I think we will have to play a really good game on Friday.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Sampson plays defensive end and tight end, while Kern recently made a visit to the University of Minnesota.
The Old Abes come into the contest losing three consecutive games after beginning the season 6-0, but those three losses came against the previously mentioned state-ranked teams. Memorial is averaging 24.7 points per game and giving up 18.2.
“Those three teams we lost to were obviously the best three teams we played so far this year,” added Sinz. “We haven’t played a complete game yet this season, but we are hoping to on Friday.
“When you play great teams, you can’t make mistakes. In the Menomonie game, we fumbled the ball on the one-yard line and couldn’t score another time from the four. In the Rice Lake game, we ran a total of 11 plays the entire second half.”
Senior quarterback Keagan Calchera went down in the first quarter of the Menomonie game in week seven with a broken collarbone, so sophomore Bryson Johnson has stepped in since. Senior running back Jack Brown (788 yards, 13 TDs) and freshman back Loyal Crawford (259 yards) are a solid double threat in the backfield, while Kyle Wilson has been a favorite target receiving with his 389 yards.
There’s a good chance had Memorial won one of its last three games, it would have been hosting a playoff game on Friday instead of having to travel the 190 miles across the state to Bay Port.
Notes: the other teams in the Pirates’ bracket besides Memorial are Appleton North (6-2), Preble (6-3), Hudson (7-2), Neenah (6-3), Stevens Point (5-4) and Wisconsin Rapids (6-3). North (9) and Hudson (10) are the other teams besides the Pirates to be state ranked.
You can log on to the WIAA website to view the brackets for all divisions.