Pirates’ thunder beats Lightning
By Rich Palzewic
SUAMICO – The Bay Port football team got the matchup it was waiting for.
After the Pirates beat a solid Appleton North team 31-21 in a WIAA Level 2 playoff game Oct. 26, their reward is a date with state power Kimberly in the quarterfinals Nov. 2 at Bay Port High School.
The No. 2-seeded Papermakers (10-1) squeaked out a 7-3 win over Neenah in their Level 2 game.
No. 1 Bay Port (11-0) led just 21-14 at the break over North (6-4), but a long drive to start the second half was key in building a 14-point lead.
“I’m just really proud of my guys,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman. “This was a really explosive Appleton North team, but I thought our defense held up pretty well. It seemed that any contested ball in the air, North got to. We didn’t give up anything in big chunks – we made them drive the field.”
A key sequence came at the end of the first half with the Pirates leading by 7 points with 1.1 seconds left. The Lightning initially lined up for a chip-shot field goal, but Westerman called a timeout to try and ice the kicker. North came out of the timeout and decided to go for the touchdown instead, but the Bay Port defense rose up to the challenge.
With Bay Port receiving the opening second-half kickoff, they drove 89 yards in 12 plays in 6 minutes and 23 seconds. The long drive was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Andrew Thomas.
Thomas also scored on a 35-yard score on the Pirates’ first drive of the game, barely 3 minutes into the contest.
Running back Isaiah Gash, who was nursing a bad ankle, scored on two short rushing touchdowns for Bay Port’s other points before intermission. Gash rushed for 164 yards on 29 carries, while Thomas added 145 yards on 17 touches.
Kicker Austin Heim kicked an important 37-yard field goal with 2:35 remaining to end the scoring.
After the Bay Port defense gave up 229 yards of offense – including 188 passing yards – to the Lightning in the first half, North gained only 45 more yards after intermission.
The Pirates played the game without regular-season quarterback Jake Plummer (shoulder) and FRCC inside linebacker of the year, Call Verlanic (stingers). They also lost the defensive back of the year in Logan Geissler to an apparent neck injury during the game. Geissler could be seen in a brace after the incident.
“I don’t even know where we are at right now with our injuries,” Westerman said. “It is concerning, but we will have to see how things shake out in that area.”
Bay Port ran 56 plays, with 49 of them coming on the ground for 313 yards. In comparison, North threw the ball 42 times for 265 yards and only rushed 15 times for 9 yards.
“We just wanted to grind it out with our running game and keep the clock moving,” added Westerman. “I’m sure our receivers weren’t real happy about it, but that’s what we needed to do – keep North’s offense off the field. Our guys are team players.”
Dalton Szymanski also recovered a fumble for the Pirates.
Appleton North: 7, 7, 7, 0 – 21
Bay Port: 7, 14, 7, 3 – 31