Cross-town rivals to play for first time since 2006
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – The last time the De Pere and West De Pere football programs met on the field, this year’s seniors were in diapers.
It’s been 15 years since the programs met on the gridiron.
When you ask the players and coaches on this year’s rosters, they are ready to renew the heated rivalry this Friday, Sept. 24.
“We’re excited to start this rivalry back up,” De Pere quarterback Gabe Herman said.
The two high schools are separated by 2.4 miles with the Fox River serving as a dividing line.
“It’s great to play a rivalry game between two schools so close and share essentially the same name but on different sides of the river,” West De Pere Head Coach Chris Greisen said.
The last time the two teams squared off was 2006 when West De Pere eked out a 7-6 victory at De Pere.
The next season, De Pere left the Bay Conference for the Fox River Classic Conference, while West De Pere stayed in the Bay.
“It was sad to see when they did the realignment in 2007,” De Pere Head Coach Chad Michalkiewicz said. That was a cross-town, legit rivalry that was lost. It was unfortunate, but it’s exciting it’s back.”
Since it’s proven difficult to track down the overall series record between the two teams, it’s known De Pere has won three of the last five meetings.
In 2002, the Redbirds thumped the Phantoms, 42-7.
The next year, West De Pere returned the favor with a 47-6 shellacking.
De Pere scored a 20-0 win in ’04 and a 28-13 victory the following season.
This year’s contest will be played at De Pere.
“I’m not worried about playing away – it’s still basically a home game,” West De Pere running back Najeh Mitchell said.
Neither coach has been a part of this rivalry.
Greisen, who played for three teams in the NFL, is in his second season at West De Pere.
Michalkiewicz is in his 11th season at De Pere.
He got his first job in education in the West De Pere School District in 2009.
He ended up leaving the district after about a year and a half when he was hired to become De Pere’s football coach.
The players on both squads haven’t played against one another in a high school football game, but the guys are familiar with each other.
“It’s cool because we established DPYF (De Pere Youth Football) – fifth- and sixth-grade football – and these kids played together,” Michalkiewicz said. “They know each other. It’s the same city, and they play Legion baseball together in the summer and they play basketball almost every year. It’s going to be fun for the kids on both sides to compete.”
Mitchell said he can’t wait to get on the field and take on guys he watched at a young age.
“I’ve known (Herman) since I played Pop Warner when I was 7,” he said. “We used to play against each other. It will be fun to play against him again, especially with how talented he is and how talented his defense is.”
Greisen agreed with Michalkiewicz.
“They know each other, some of them hang out with each other and some of them don’t like each other,” he said. “It’s the same thing that happened when I was in Sturgeon Bay against guys from Southern Door. We played together in different sports, but then we were rivals. It was fun and intense. I don’t doubt it will be the same way for West De Pere and De Pere.”
Battle of hot teams
This won’t be just a rivalry game for both teams, it’s important for their seasons.
The teams have been playing well after getting kicked in the gut in Week 1.
De Pere (4-1, 3-0 FRCC-North) was manhandled 38-14 by Wausau West and has responded with four straight victories, outscoring their opponents 138-21.
“We had to rally,” Herman said. “It’s not easy to bounce back from a loss like that. It was being on the road – we had to drive two hours there. (Wausau West) was a great team. We’ve come together as a team and learning about each other.”
“They’re a good team, obviously beating Bay Port at Bay Port,” Greisen said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
De Pere’s offense has been winning games on the ground as of late.
As a dual-threat quarterback, Herman rushed for 100 yards against Bay Port.
Herman has accounted for 14 touchdowns this season (eight passing and six rushing).
He has plenty of help behind him with Devin Koskey (354 yards rushing), Sean Colwell and Michael Alexander.
Michalkiewicz said Friday will be the first time all season he’ll have the same unit together on the field in back-to-back weeks.
“Defensively, we’ve been a swarming, suffocating defense that’s taken the football away,” he said.
West De Pere (2-3, 2-1 FRCC-North) lost 60-31 by Wauwatosa West in its season opener.
Since that game, the Phantoms are 2-2 with a three-point loss to Hortonville and a five-point loss to Bay Port.
West De Pere downed Menasha 49-21 Sept. 17.
Mitchell had 177 yards rushing and receiving and four touchdowns on the ground.
“Not that it’s easier he’s a running back, but it’s similar to Bay Port with the Montgomerys out,” Michalkiewicz said. “You knew everything was going to run through (Bay Port quarterback Cole) Bensen. They got (Mitchell) loose in the passing game against Bay Port. Not easy, but it’s different when you’re keying on a running back vs. a quarterback. It will be a challenge – he’s a good football player.”
Mitchell, who has 347 yards rushing and 290 yards receiving this season to go with 13 touchdowns, has started to attract attention from Division I colleges.
He said he’s been in touch with coaches from Nebraska, Iowa, Central Michigan and North Dakota.
West De Pere is rolling with a relatively new quarterback in sophomore Duke Shovald.
He stepped in to play in Week 3 and then took over the starting job the next week against Bay Port.
Shovald has thrown for 696 yards and six touchdowns, compared to one interception.
“(Shovald) is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen,” Mitchell said. “He can throw anything. He can take a hit and still throw it. He can hit anybody in-target.”
Having a viable option at quarterback doesn’t make the Phantoms so one-dimensional with Mitchell in the backfield.
“Even if our run game is not going good, our passing game is strong, especially with (Shovald), Langdon (Nordgaard) and Ryder Lesage,” Mitchell said. “I can go out in the passing game and make a difference. We can do more than run the ball.”
Mitchell said there is plenty of mutual respect amongst the guys, but on the field, a victory is what matters.
“On the field, I’m not going to be friends with them,” he said. “After the game, it will be perfectly fine.”
Herman had similar thoughts.
“They’re going to give us their best, and we’re going to give them our best, so it should be a fun one,” he said.