Bay Port takes down Kimberly in state semifinals
By Rich Palzewic
OSHKOSH – In the matchup everyone wanted to see, it was Bay Port that came out on top over Kimberly in the WIAA Division 1 football state semifinals.
Like a heavyweight prizefight, the Pirates exchanged blows with the Papermakers in a 42-28 victory at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh Nov. 15.
Bay Port (13-0) will play in the program’s first-ever state title game against defending state champ Muskego (13-0) at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison at 4 p.m. Nov. 22.
“I’m unbelievably proud of my guys and feel fortunate to come out with a win,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman, who is a former assistant coach at Kimberly. “Kimberly is so well-coached and doesn’t typically make many mistakes. To win a game like this and make it to Camp Randall is the ultimate goal. I’m excited for the community – hopefully, we shut the lights off in town about noon on Friday [Nov. 22] and everybody shows up in Madison.”
Despite outgaining Bay Port 509-411 in total yards, the Papermakers couldn’t overcome five turnovers and a blocked punt.
During a span in the second quarter, the Pirates turned three Kimberly turnovers into a 28-7 lead.
Kimberly, which came into the game winners of 84 of its last 86 games, had appeared in the state title game six consecutive years, winning five titles during that span.
Bay Port running back Isaiah Gash rushed for 204 yards on 19 carries with four touchdowns, while quarterback Andrew Thomas added another 147 yards rushing on 17 attempts and a score.
The Pirates rushed for 355 yards as a team.
“We made some mistakes on defense with the big plays,” Westerman said. “It was back and forth the whole first half, and we took advantage of Kimberly’s turnovers. Things settled down after halftime and they loaded the box on us defensively. We made enough plays to shut it out.”
The Papermakers had 349 yards of total offense in the first half.
After Kimberly took a 7-0 lead on its second possession of the game, Thomas sprinted 54 yards up the middle on Bay Port’s next possession to knot the score at 7.
On the ensuing Papermakers’ possession, Jayden Montgomery picked off a Caden Pendleton pass and returned it 45 yards deep into Kimberly territory.
A facemask penalty on the play moved the Pirates closer before Gash scored from nine yards out early in the second quarter.
Another Pendleton interception, this time by Logan Geissler at the Papermakers’ 20-yard line, set up Gash’s second score of the night from 13 yards away to make it 21-7.
Thomas also had a 53-yard run on the series.
A few minutes later, Montgomery ripped the ball away from a Kimberly runner to stop another drive, setting up Gash’s third score of the half for a 28-7 advantage.
Gash’s 39-yard scamper came on the first play after Montgomery’s fumble recovery.
“I owe everything to my offensive line,” said Gash, who has rushed for 779 yards in the last three playoff games. “It’s a surreal feeling heading to Madison. We earned this victory by working hard in our summer workouts. We knew if we could score every single time we touched the ball, we’d win. We stalled offensively in the second half, but our defense played great.”
Leading 28-14 with 19 seconds remaining before halftime, Thomas hit Sam Plumb on a juggling, 18-yard score to put the Pirates up 35-14.
On the first play after the kickoff, Kimberly’s Caleb Frazier rumbled 65 yards untouched down the right sideline to cut the gap to 35-21.
Gash busted up the middle and scored a 52-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage in the second half for a 42-21 margin.
With Kimberly driving late in the game, Geissler intercepted his second ball of the night to seal the victory.
“The turnovers are huge momentum swings,” said Geissler. “In the first half, you could see how it all changed with the turnovers. We buckled down on our assignments in the second half, and we beat a great team.”
Bay Port’s Jake Berg blocked a punt and Bryce VanHemelryk recovered a fumble.