Goal-line stand preserves victory for De Pere
By Greg Bates
SUAMICO – As the De Pere players came out of the pile, they ran out with their hands held high, racing toward their sideline.
The celebration was on after the Redbirds staged an emotionally intense goal-line stand, thwarting Bay Port from getting in the end zone as time expired.
De Pere had hung on – barely – in come-from-behind fashion to beat the Pirates 19-15 in a battle of state-ranked teams on Friday night.
The loss put an end to Bay Port’s 38-game Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) winning streak.
De Pere was the last conference team to down Bay Port, which was in October 2015.
“I want to say it’s just another game, but it’s not – it’s Bay Port,” De Pere quarterback Gabe Herman said. “They’ve been running the conference for a while now, and (we’re) glad to get this one on their home turf. The feeling we have right now is incredible.”
This is the second victory in a row for De Pere (4-1 overall, 3-0 FRCC) in its series with Bay Port.
In the spring, the Redbirds scored a 20-13 win.
“We’ve beaten them three times, but we’ve gotten licked by them quite a few times,” De Pere coach Chad Michalkiewicz said. “Any time you beat Bay Port, it’s huge. That’s a testament to their football program, but it’s also a sign of the growth of ours that we can beat them two (seasons) in a row. It’s a huge night for De Pere football.”
But who would have thought this game would have come down to a goal-line stand to determine the winner?
Certainly not many of the players and coaches and the rowdy fans who packed the stands.
The last 32 seconds prior to the clock hitting all zeros were wild.
Trailing 15-12, De Pere got down to the Bay Port 25-yard thanks to 10 straight running plays.
That’s when Michalkiewicz dialed up a pass play he had been eyeing.
Herman received the play call – smash rout, hitch corner.
He dropped back and hit his reliable wide receiver Jack May at about the 2-yard line, and he raced into the end zone.
“I wanted to milk a little more time, but I felt the time was right to take that shot so that we could come back and hit another one if we needed to,” Michalkiewicz said. “The big boys up front took the game over and they wanted it. And a huge shout-out – obviously the Gabe Hermans of the world and the Jack Mays, those are your studs – the O-line took the game over.”
Herman only connected on four passes all night, going 4-for-11 for 37 yards.
However, he made his final completion count.
“I’d been overthrowing receivers and underthrowing them all game, so I wanted to give my guy a chance,” Herman said. “He’s quick and fast. The guy he was going against is a phenomenal safety. I gave my guy a chance, and he made a big play.”
The touchdown gave De Pere the lead back with just 32 seconds left on the clock.
Bay Port, which was without three key starters in Jayden Montgomery (torn ACL), Tevyn Montgomery (close contact with COVID) and Nate Forystek (undisclosed), got the ball, but its first two plays went nowhere.
With 18 seconds remaining, Bay Port quarterback Cole Bensen launched a pass that Cooper O’Connell hauled in after a pair of De Pere defenders collided.
O’Connell raced toward the end zone but was shoved out of bounds at the 1-yard line by De Pere’s Mason Stecker.
It was a shocking turn of events with Bay Port (4-1, 2-1) on the doorstep of winning.
The Pirates called a timeout – their last – with 6 seconds remaining.
Michalkiewicz was able to get his jumbo package into the game for the final play.
That meant Gavin Busse and Jacob Quinnette got their first snaps of the game.
Westerman called a run play to AJ Courchaine up the middle, and the De Pere defense rose to the occasion.
A number of Redbirds were in on the game-saving stop, including Michael Alexander, Luke Brosig and Noah Gehin.
“Early in the game, we were getting them good on it,” Westerman said. “It was a 2-point conversion play. It was we’re going to out will you so to speak. We didn’t execute.”
There were plenty of highs and lows for the players and coaches on both sidelines in the final minute of the back-and-forth game.
With Bay Port 1 yard away from pulling off the victory, De Pere linebacker Caleb Rinard tried to stay even-keeled throughout.
“You get a little worried, but at the same time, you know you’ve still got to be out there, you’ve got to play – there are 6 seconds left on the clock, Rinard, who finished with a team-leading 10 tackles, said. “That’s the last play of the game. You’ve got to show up when it counts. Our guys did that, and it’s amazing. It’s a great win for us.”
Bay Port, ranked No. 7 in Division 1 in the latest WisSports.net Coaches Poll, outgained De Pere, ranked No. 10 in D-2, for the game, 327-257.
Both teams relied on their ground game.
Bay Port rushed 39 times for 222 yards, and De Pere had 37 carries for 220 yards.
Herman ran for 100 yards on 10 attempts, tallying a 54-yard touchdown run to give De Pere a 6-0 lead.
His counterpart Bensen finished with 21 carries for 124 yards, which included a 51-yard touchdown scamper to give Bay Port a 7-6 advantage in the opening quarter.
The De Pere defense came up with two turnovers, the first, a fumble by Bensen, was turned into a touchdown.
Herman hit his tight end Gehin from 7 yards out to put the Redbirds up 12-7 with 2:13 remaining in the first half.
Bay Port orchestrated a 13-play drive coming out of halftime as Courchaine scored a 1-yard touchdown to give the Pirates the lead back.
De Pere’s first two drives of the second half were both three-and-outs.
It wasn’t until their third possession that the Redbirds got their offense clicking.
De Pere got the ball on its 36-yard line with 5:32 on the clock trailing by three points.
“I went into the huddle, I saw guys that wanted to go down and score and to back up our defense,” Herman said. “That’s what we did.”