BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – This time around, things were different.
Led by the one-two punch of running backs Isaiah Gash and Jacob Calawerts, the No. 3 ranked Bay Port football team outlasted Eau Claire Memorial 42-21 in a WIAA Division 1 Level 1 playoff game on Oct. 20 at Bay Port High School.
The win avenged a 2015 loss when the Old Abes came to town for a Level 1 game and went home with 29-0 victory.
“I’m happy that our seniors get to play another week,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman. “I thought we played really well in spurts, but I also think that we had the opportunity to put them away, but we let it slip and that’s hard. We would have liked to finish them off, but we just didn’t do that and let them hang around.
“I thought we were really physical up front offensively, and defensively I thought we played relatively well. Once we got a few scores, it kind of got (Memorial) out of their offense.”
The Pirates (10-0) will next host Stevens Point (6-4) in a Level 2 game on Friday, Oct. 27, at 7:00. SPASH beat Hudson 48-47 in overtime in their opening game to set up a rematch of last year’s state quarterfinals against Bay Port, a game the Panthers won, 37-34.
Against the Old Abes, Gash rushed for 96 yards with four touchdowns, while Calawerts added 92 and a score. Quarterback Isaac Krause chipped in with 76 tough yards as the Pirates had 265 yards on the ground. The solid ground attack helped Bay Port hold the ball for a whopping 32 minutes, 7 seconds, in the time of possession battle.
Westerman stated earlier in the week that Memorial was the best No. 8 seed in the state, and the Old Abes came out early and proved that. After both teams started the game with three-and-outs, Memorial struck later in the first to take a 7-0 lead on an 85-yard drive.
“They were definitely a very strong team,” Westerman said. “We knew that going in, so it was a good test for us. Our ground game led to a huge time of possession advantage for us.”
Gash scored the first of his four TDs with 43 seconds left in the first on a seven-yard run to tie it, then put the Pirates up a score when he scored early in the second quarter on a five-yard scamper. The second score was set up after the Old Abes lost 16 yards on a bad snap at their own four-yard line. After the punt, Bay Port took over on the Memorial side of the field.
Calawerts gave the Pirates a 21-7 lead on a short-yardage score with just under five minutes remaining until half, but shortly thereafter, a blocked punt by the Old Abes gave them some momentum. Fueled by a 31-yard pass play to the one, Memorial scored with 2.6 seconds left in the half to make it a one-score game.
“The blocked punt was terrible,” added Westerman. “That was just a really bad football play on our part with the kids not executing. I thought that was big.”
Spurred on by their late-half surge, the Old Abes tried an onside kick to start the second half, but Jordan Bindas narrowly recovered the ball to switch field position back to the Pirates. Thirteen plays and 54 yards later, Gash made it 28-14 on his third TD of the game.
After Carson Schroeder returned an interception to the Memorial 26-yard line, Ryan Smith plunged in from the one to put Bay Port up three scores at the end of the third quarter.
Gash closed the scoring with 5:15 remaining with his fourth touchdown of the night on a nifty 20-yard run, where he spun several times and broke a number of tackles along the way.
“Bay Port is a really good team,” said Memorial head coach Mike Sinz. “I loved our kids’ fight until the end. It’s too bad that we got some guys banged up right away.
“I thought we came out really well, but then with the injuries, we had to start playing some guys both ways. We wore down some there.”
The Old Abes were playing the game without their starting QB, who was hurt in week seven, and also lost a pair of running back in the game against the Pirates.
Krause was 13-of-16 passing for 113 yards, while Cordell Tinch hauled in seven receptions for 46 yards.
The Bay Port defense held the Old Abes to 180 total yards of offense and just 15:46 of possession. Memorial managed only eight first downs and was just 1-of-9 on third down.
Eau Claire 7, 7, 0, 7 – 21
Bay Port 7, 14, 14, 7 – 42