BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – The Bay Port football team will look back on its defeat to Kimberly in the WIAA Division 1 Level 3 playoffs as one that got away.
The Pirates lost two fumbles, had a touchdown called back due to a penalty and had another key penalty that kept a Papermakers’ drive alive in a 38-20 setback Nov. 2 at Bay Port High School.
“We just made way too many mistakes,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman. “I’m super proud of our kids and how hard they competed. We had a great season, but it hurts now. Sometime in the future, the kids will look back and reflect on it. We are close as a program – we just have to find a way to get over the hump.”
It was the third straight season that Bay Port (11-1) lost in the state quarterfinals.
Kimberly (11-1), winners of 81 of its last 82 games, has won five consecutive state championships, with the last four being in Division 1.
The Papermakers will move on to play No. 1 ranked Fond du Lac in the state semifinals. Fondy gave Kimberly its only loss of the year in week one of the regular season on a last-second field goal.
“We knew that Bay Port had a really stout defensive line,” said Kimberly head coach Steve Jones. “We knew that to win the game, we’d probably have to complete some balls and move the chains through the air. I’m really proud of how our kids competed against a really good Bay Port team.”
Kimberly quarterback Cody Staerkel was 20-25 for 320 yards, with receivers Conner Wnek and Zach Lechnir combining for 19 receptions and 311 yards.
Bay Port took a 20-19 lead halfway through the third quarter, but the Papermakers scored three straight touchdowns to close the game out.
The Pirates were decimated by injuries late in the season, including in the game against Kimberly. Starting defensive backs Logan Geissler (neck) and Dalton Szymanski (concussion) didn’t suit up. Starting center Dailin Danforth also went down with a knee injury during the game and didn’t return.
The biggest Bay Port mistake came late in the first half. Quarterback Andrew Thomas connected with receiver Cody Lindquist on a 40-yard touchdown pass, but it was wiped out due to a holding penalty.
“We were obviously shorthanded in the defensive backfield,” Westerman added. “I’ve never had a season with this many injuries, but the kids that were in there were coached up and played really hard. Hats off to Kimberly – that’s why they are a championship program.”
Running back Isaiah Gash scored all three touchdowns for the Pirates and ended with 155 yards on 26 carries.
Thomas was 7-13 for 111 yards, with Lindquist being his favorite target in catching five balls for 83 yards.
Gash’s first touchdown in the first quarter was set up by a 44-yard pitch and catch from Thomas to Lindquist.
After Bay Port took the 7-0 lead, Kimberly appeared to be stopped inside the Pirates’ 20-yard line on the ensuing possession, but a roughing-the-passer penalty on third down gave the Papermakers new life, as they eventually scored a few plays later.
With the game tied at 7, The Pirates drove to the Kimberly 14-yard line early in the second quarter but turned the ball over on downs. The Papermakers proceeded to go 86 yards from there to take a 13-7 lead.
Kimberly: 7, 12, 6, 13 – 38
Bay Port: 7, 6, 7, 0 – 20