Rookie Herman leads De Pere over Southwest
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – As far as varsity football debuts go, Gabe Herman couldn’t have shown off his talents much better.
The De Pere sophomore quarterback looked cool and collected in the pocket preparing to pass as well as outside the tackle box running for big chunks of yardage.
When Chad Michalkiewicz was asked after the game about his dazzling first-game performance by his rookie, the veteran coach expressed high praise.
“We’ve got to watch the film, but he had three passing and one rushing touchdown and turned lots of broken plays into positive yardage,” Michalkiewicz said. “We knew he had the moxie with his basketball experience, but you don’t know until they take that first snap under the lights. He looks like the real deal.”
Herman orchestrated five touchdown drives – having a direct impact in four of those scores – as De Pere opened its alternate spring season with a 39-0 drubbing of Green Bay Southwest March 26.
“It’s a great start to the season,” Herman said. “We didn’t know if we were going to be out here in the spring.”
De Pere’s offense racked up 352 yards and 21 first downs.
Herman was a big reason for the success on that side of the ball.
He was 7-for-12 passing for 132 yards and three touchdowns.
On the ground, he had nine keepers for a team-high 69 yards and a score.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid,” Herman said. “We worked hard in the offseason – now we’re here.”
At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Herman has good size for his position and a long stride when he’s running.
“He’s been relishing the opportunity,” Michalkiewicz said. “The kids believe in him. For a sophomore — I don’t even know if he’s got his driver’s license yet – to already have earned the respect of the seniors, it’s fun to watch.”
For how good the De Pere offense played, the defense was lights out.
It surrendered only 88 yards to Southwest.
The Trojans managed 34 yards rushing on 25 attempts.
The Redbirds’ defense caused four turnovers, three of which were fumbles.
“They’re tenacious,” Michalkiewicz said. “It’s no secret what we’re doing defensively, and with two cerebral safeties back there, if we can stop the run with those two hawking the ball, it makes it difficult for the opposing offense to push the ball down the field. We won first down, and that was the difference. They were in second-and-long; we were in second-and-short.”
Which unit would Michalkiewicz say played a better first game?
“I’d say the defense, because the first two takeaways they gave us, we got zero points from those,” he said. We’ll look at that offensively, but it’s by a slim margin. It was a great team effort tonight.”
Green Bay Southwest was led by quarterback Alex Kowalczyk, who was 4-for-11 passing for 54 yards.
He hit Javonnee Szymanski three times for 29 yards.
Croix Zacharias had a team-leading 51 yards rushing.
“We’ll work on the mistakes, the fundamentals and get better in the day-to-day process,” Southwest co-coach Pat Wallace said. “Like I told the kids, they’re not out of the playoffs and this isn’t the NCAA. It’s not like you lose today and you can’t go for it.”
De Pere (1-0) got its first two scores on the night by Adam Timbrook.
The senior had a 1-yard touchdown plunge and a 39-yard screen from Herman to go up 12-0 in the middle of the second quarter.
Back-to-back connections from Herman to Bennett Spaeth netted 55 yards to give the Redbirds great field position with under 2 minutes remaining in the opening half.
Two plays later, Herman rolled right and realized a defensive end was on his tail.
He cut back to the left and outran the defenders to the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.
On the first play of the next Green Bay Southwest (0-1) drive, Blaise Smits pounced on a fumble at the Trojans’ 41-yard line with 1:14 remaining in the half.
De Pere worked its way down to the 5-yard line.
“We only have about 25 percent of our no-huddle in, and I took the timeout with 26 (seconds left) and told Gabe if the pass wasn’t there, he’s got to throw it out of the end zone,” Michalkiewicz said. “He went up the gut thinking he could score – young buck. We had to get into our no-huddle. We got our pass play in, and he snapped it with about 3 seconds on the clock.”
Herman hit Spaeth for a touchdown with 2.5 seconds on the clock to put De Pere up, 26-0.
De Pere’s first drive of the second half was masterful.
Mixing the pass and the run, the Redbirds got down to the 10 and faced fourth down.
Herman rolled to the right and threw a strike in the corner of the end zone to Maddax Shinners, who tip-toed a foot inbounds for a touchdown.
“We worked on that all summer,” Herman said. “We’ve done that route so many times on empty turf and executed it.”
De Pere scored its final touchdown on a 44-yard pass from backup quarterback Patrick Rotherham to Jack May.
The Redbirds hosts Oshkosh West, which opened its season with a 31-6 victory over Appleton East, April 1.
The De Pere players said they won’t overlook their next game, but they have their sights set on a bigger prize, especially after how well the team played in Week 1.
“We’ve got a big game coming up (April 9) against Bay Port,” Herman said. “We’re looking to make a statement this year.”