East hangs on in nail biter over West
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – The 115th installment of the Green Bay East-Green Bay West rivalry won’t soon be forgotten.
Using a high-powered offense in past meetings, East relied on its defense this time around.
It stopped a West 2-point conversion to take the lead mid-fourth quarter, and then East stopped a red-zone drive with under 1 minute remaining to preserve a 15-14 victory Friday, April 16, in Del Marcelle Stadium at West High School.
The Red Devils now lead the all-time series 63-49-3.
East has won the last six games in a row and 21 of the last 23 meetings.
Amid a COVID-19 pandemic and with both teams having small rosters this season, the battle intensified.
Both teams had to cancel their respective games the prior week due to not having enough players.
The rivalry game was going to happen – both first-year head coaches were going to make sure of that.
“It was important to this town, the community and both schools to play this game,” East coach Levi Nelson said. “These kids have been through so much in the last year, and I don’t have to tell you guys that.”
West head coach Skylar Liebzeit agreed with Nelson.
“The history is about these close games,” he said. “This is the type of game you want to be out here battling. Hats off to East – they played their tails off. They showed up and played. My kids showed up and played. I can’t be more proud of them.”
With East (1-1) holding a 15-8 lead and driving in the fourth quarter, the tide of the game quickly swung the other way.
Red Devils quarterback Alex Schlag ran a keeper on third down and got around the edge where he was met by Wildcats defender Ronald Schmocker.
The sophomore took the ball out of Schlag’s hands and raced down the East side 65 yards for a touchdown.
Down one point, Liebzeit opted for the 2-point conversation with 7:40 remaining.
Quarterback Jack Hemery had thrown well all night, but his pass sailed over the intended receiver in the end zone.
“I didn’t mean to put my team in such a tight situation, but they made the play (when they had to),” Schlag said. “We had to stop this 2-pointer or else the game was over for us. Our cornerback, Talen (Leuthoudom), stepped up big. Our defense stepped up big the whole game.”
After that defensive stand on the 2-point conversion, East’s offense went three-and-out.
West (0-3) got the ball back with 5:42 on the clock.
Hemery connected with Mason Weisnicht for a 16-yard gain, and Hemery ran for five yards to the East 10.
Two plays later, the Wildcats faced a third-and-7 at the 12 with 57.4 seconds left and called a timeout.
Hemery was forced out of the pocket, stripped and the ball was recovered by East’s Austin Dewberry.
“I told our guys during the timeout, ‘The pressure is on them because they have to score to win the game,” Nelson said. “I told them, ‘I believe in you guys.’ I can’t say enough about our defense. We talk about getting six all the time. If we get six three-and-outs, defensive scores, turnovers or stops on fourth down, we’re going to win the game. I don’t know how many we got tonight, but I know it was more than six. The defense bailed us out of a jam – they played their hearts out.”
East’s defense held West to 168 yards of total offense and recorded five sacks and three turnovers (two fumble recoveries and one interception).
Nelson said he preaches to his players what he calls the windshield wiper mentality.
If a bad play happens, his guys have to automatically forget what happened and focus on the next play.
“After West scored and they’re going to 2, my guys got windshield wiper mentality – we stop them,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the game – and victory – wasn’t only special because it was his first rivalry game against West, it was also because his wife was in the stands.
Nelson, who relocated to Green Bay from Ohio with his family, had his in-laws fly in from Philadelphia to babysit so his wife could attend her first game.
“I can’t wait to go over and tell her I love her and give her a big hug,” Nelson said.
I know she’s going to be excited.”
East – which finished with 209 yards rushing and 30 yards passing – took an 8-0 in the second quarter when Seth Weatherspoon, playing in his first high school game, tip-toed his team’s sideline and raced 76 yards for a score.
Schlag added the 2-point conversion run.
West tied the game 8-8 in the third quarter when Hemery hooked up with Nassir Williams for a 50-yard touchdown pass.
The duo connected on the 2-point pass as well.
On East’s ensuing drive, Schlag hit Darius Miller in the flat off a tipped ball.
The running back caught the pass and rumbled 29 yards for the score.
Henry Beyler added the extra point.
In a season of uncertainty, one thing is certain for East: it picked up the victory it truly desired.
“This 100% makes the season for us,” Schlag said.