Level 3 playoff preview: Bay Port vs. Kimberly
BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – The task may appear daunting, but the Bay Port football team is ready.
In a matchup of two of the top teams in the state, the No. 1-seeded Pirates will host No. 2 Kimberly in a WIAA Level 3 showdown Nov. 2 at Bay Port High School.
Kimberly, the No. 2 ranked team in the state behind Fond du Lac, has won five consecutive state titles, with the last four being in Division 1.
The Papermakers (10-1) entered 2018 on a 70-game winning streak but lost their opening game of the season to Fondy on a last-second field goal.
In all, Kimberly has won seven state titles dating back to 2007 and is 80-1 since the beginning of 2013.
“The run we have been on has been unbelievable,” said Kimberly head coach Steve Jones. “The wins and trophies are great, but I’m most proud of how the kids have taken care of the process each week. That’s really tough to do in our league with the teams we face – it’s one of the toughest conferences in the state.”
Kimberly plays in the rugged Valley Association with the likes of Fond du Lac, Neenah, Appleton North and Stevens Point.
Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman was an assistant coach with Jones at Kimberly before eventually taking the head job with the Pirates.
“It will obviously be a huge challenge,” said Westerman. “They have a lot of tradition there and know how to win. They have an unbelievable coaching staff – what they’ve done over the years is incredible. I’m not too concerned about the opponent we play but more about getting our kids healthy and ready to go.”
Quarterback Jake Plummer (shoulder), inside linebacker Call Verlanic (stingers), running back Isaiah Gash (ankle), defensive lineman Jose Ramirez (ankle) and defensive back Logan Geissler (neck) are all nursing injuries.
Plummer has basically missed the first two playoff games, while Gash and Ramirez played in the Pirates’ Level 2 victory over Appleton North. Verlanic and Geissler appear to be questionable going forward.
Junior quarterback Andrew Thomas has filled in the last two games and is getting more comfortable under center.
For the previous two seasons before this one, things were set up for Bay Port to clash with the Papermakers in the state semifinals, but each time, the Pirates slipped up in the quarterfinals.
In 2016, Bay Port lost 37-34 to Stevens Point, and then last season, the Pirates dropped a 49-41 thriller to Appleton North.
“We will take the same approach against Kimberly that we did against Appleton North in Level 2,” Westerman said. “We need to run the ball, control the clock and keep their offense off the field as much as we can.”
The Papermakers rely on the strong arm of quarterback Cody Staerkel and the running of Will Fischer. Staerkel has completed 130 of 200 pass attempts for 2,180 yards and 25 touchdowns, while Fischer has rushed for 1,000 yards and six scores.
Running back Caleb Frazier has also rushed for 591 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Receiver Conner Wnek leads the Papermakers with 39 pass receptions for 653 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“Bay Port is a program with rich history,” added Jones. “Coach Westerman and his staff have done a tremendous job over the last several years of being one of the top teams in the state. We’ve never been up to Bay Port, so we are excited about that opportunity. They have a lot of athleticism, skill and size and are well coached in all three phases. It will be a tough test for us.”
The winner of the Level 3 contest will play the winner of Fond du Lac/Sun Prairie Nov. 9 in the state semifinals.
Editor’s note: Presale tickets for the WIAA Level 3 game will be available for $5 apiece in the Bay Port High School athletic office on Thursday from 7:00-4:00 and Friday from 7:00-noon. No passes allowed.