Pirates clash with Lightning: Level 3 playoff preview
BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – Another week in the playoffs means another quality opponent for the Bay Port football team.
This time around, the Appleton North Lightning will travel to Suamico for a WIAA Division 1 Level 3 state quarterfinal game on Friday, Nov. 3, at 7:00.
The winner of the clash will move on to the state semis to face the winner of Kimberly/Fond du Lac at a site/time to be determined next weekend.
“Like last week, I’m happy to have the seniors get at least one more game,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman. “To be able to share this with them – and see all the alumni come back – is really special.
“North has a really talented receiver on the outside (Adam Zeratsky) so that concerns you. Their quarterback (Carter Robinson) is really efficient, they are balanced on offense and have a big offensive line; and then as always, they play Appleton North defense, which is good pursuit to the football.”
Zeratsky, the Fox Valley Association North Division (FVA ND) receiver of the year, went off for 216 yards on 13 receptions a year ago when the Lightning came to Bay Port for a Level 1 contest, a game in which the Pirates were victorious, 42-28. Zeratsky has 918 yards receiving on 52 catches this year.
The junior Robinson is 131-193 (68 percent) passing for 1,773 yards with 14 TDs and just two interceptions this season.
“To be honest, (Robinson) is probably playing the best of any quarterback around,” said North coach Rob Salm earlier this week via phone. “Truthfully, he’s the best we’ve had at Appleton North for quite some time. We don’t run him very often, but he’s actually a very gifted runner.
“I think Zeratsky is one of the best receivers in the state, but he’s unlike (Bay Port receiver) Cordell Tinch who is a phenomenal athlete. Adam is a great athlete, too, but he’s very polished on technique and running routes. If you single cover him, he’s a tough matchup for anyone.”
While the No. 3 ranked Pirates have had two close games to start the postseason, No. 9 North has gotten blowout wins over Preble (42-7) and Neenah (45-7). The Lightning play in the rugged FVA with the likes of No. 1 ranked Kimberly – who has won 67 games in a row – and No. 4 Fond du Lac. The Lightning lost both games to those two opponents this year, but took Kimberly down to the wire before dropping a 38-31 game. North also beat Point – Bay Port’s opponent last week – 21 to 14 in week four.
“I think our tough schedule has really helped us,” Salm said. “It beats you up a little bit, but when you play a quality opponent week in and week out, there’s no rest. The way our schedule worked out, we had a week nine bye, so that helped us get healthy and we hit the playoffs playing really well.”
To give you an idea, three of the eight teams remaining in the D1 playoffs are all members of the FVA: Kimberly, Fond du Lac and North.
The Lightning is averaging 37.4 points per game and giving up just 14.6, while the Pirates are scoring at a 47.5 points-per-game average and giving up 18.5, including 51 against the Panthers last week in four overtimes.
North also has running backs Will Stewart (916 yards, 15 TDs) and Ian Laatsh (656, 10), the FVA ND offensive lineman of the year in Brandon Haag (6-foot-3, 324 pounds), the FVA ND linebacker of the year (Carter O’Brien) and first-team all-conference selections, Wes Sommers (cornerback), Christian Mathews (safety), Ryan Balck (fullback), Darien Peniston (defensive line, 6-5, 317) Jake Tomassetti (outside linebacker), Zach Fischer (offensive lineman, 6-4, 301) and Elijah Sinclair (defensive end).
Haag has gotten some looks from Division 1 colleges in the Mid-American Conference, while Stewart, also a first-team FVA ND selection, didn’t play in last year’s Level 1 game due to injury.
“We have a long history with Bay Port – we know what they do and vice versa,” added Salm. “It’s just a matter of who executes better and who makes the big plays during crunch time. I think we are a better football team now that what we were a year ago when we played them.
“Bay Port’s offensive line play is very good. They are very balanced on offense and defensively they are in the right position, consistently around the ball and are coached well.”
Bay Port quarterback Isaac Krause has accounted for 2,442 yards (1,508 passing, 934 rushing) and 24 touchdowns combined. The senior is completing 69 percent of his passes (110-160) and is helped in the backfield by running backs Jacob Calawerts (792 yards, 11 TDs), Isaiah Gash (784, 14) and Ryan Smith (11 TDs). Gash had 188 yards rushing in the Level 2 game, while Smith scored four touchdowns.
Tinch has 57 receptions for 797 yards, while Call Verlanic leads the team with 101 tackles.
“I don’t think we’ve played a complete game this year yet, not even close,” added Westerman. “We haven’t yet put a whole game together with our offense, defense and special teams, but I hope we can do that Friday. We are playing for an opportunity to be playing in the state semifinals.”
Note: to read about last week’s 57-51, four-overtime victory over SPASH, CLICK HERE.