De Pere holds off West De Pere in rivalry game
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – The De Pere football team’s offense has proved it’s potent in the first half.
Of its 173 total points scored this season, 129 have come in the opening two quarters.
None of those first-half points were bigger than a last-second touchdown against West De Pere Friday night.
De Pere was forced to convert a fourth-and-long.
One play later, quarterback Gabe Herman found tight end Noah Gehin for a hard-earned touchdown that gave the Redbirds a 21-10 lead at halftime.
That extra cushion proved to be helpful as the Redbirds held off West De Pere 21-16 at De Pere High School in the first game between the two schools since 2006.
With the win, De Pere (5-1 overall, 4-1 Fox River Classic Conference) is playoff eligible.
“If this is an indication of the reborn rivalry, that’s good for this city,” De Pere Head Coach Chad Michalkiewicz said. “It was a great football game. We have lots of goals as a team, but the only one that matters first is qualifying for the playoffs. Once you hit that, you can start looking at where you sit. It will still be a one-week at a time thing for us.”
On the field, getting the rivalry back was big for the players.
“Their crowd was loud, our crowd was loud,” De Pere linebacker Luke Brosig said. “It was a little chippy, but that’s football. It’s a good rivalry to get back, and for generations to come, it’s going to be awesome.”
West De Pere was without its head coach Chris Greisen, who was forced to quarantine.
Defensive coordinator Kegan Wirtz took over the role as the acting head coach, while Matt Hansen was the offensive coordinator for the game, taking over for Greisen.
“I was proud of our kids the way they battled,” Wirtz said. “This is the first time we’ve played in 15 years against east De Pere. It’s hard when it’s a rivalry game, but we battled through the end. It was a good, physical football game. It didn’t work out for us at the end, but I was proud of the way our kids played and their resilience.”
On a rainy, windy night that was persistent nearly the entire game, ball security was important.
That meant a heavy dose of running the football by both squads.
In driving rain, De Pere took its opening possession and didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard.
Herman kept it on the option and was off to the races for a 56-yard touchdown to go up 7-0 after the extra point.
West De Pere’s offense started stagnantly and punted its first two possessions.
However, on its second punt, De Pere fumbled the ball, and the Phantoms pounced on the ball at the Redbirds’ 31-yard line.
Working it inside the 10, West De Pere had to settle for a Bryce Smith 25-yard field.
On the next play from scrimmage, De Pere running back Sean Colwell took a handoff and was gone.
He ran 75 yards for a score to put his team up 14-3 after the extra point.
After converting on a fourth down near midfield, West De Pere drove down the field, and Najeh Mitchell scored a 2-yard touchdown.
De Pere got the ball back with plenty of time on the clock.
The Redbirds worked their way down to the West De Pere 22-yard line.
On a 4th-and-11, Herman found Anders Davidson in the seam for a 14-yard gain with 9.3 seconds remaining in the opening half.
De Pere called timeout to set up a play.
“That was a Y underplay where I do an arrow route underneath the formation, and their guy hit me,” Gehin said. “I thought (Herman) was going to pull the ball and run it, but he dumped it to me. I saw a couple of white jerseys in the end zone. I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to dive for this one to get in.’ I dove and got a touchdown.”
The 8-yard touchdown with 1.3 seconds left on the clock was a momentum shift for De Pere, which went up 21-10 at the break.
West De Pere (2-4, 2-2) took the opening kickoff of the second half and orchestrated a 73-yard drive.
Mitchell capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown run on a fourth down.
Eli Forseth was stuffed on a 2-point run to keep De Pere up, 21-16.
On that series for De Pere, star linebacker Caleb Rinard left the game with a dislocated right elbow that had to be popped back into place.
Rinard didn’t return to the game and was sporting a sling on the sideline as he watched his teammates.
“I went up to everyone and said, ‘We’ve got to play for Caleb. I know Caleb would want to win this game more than anyone on the team,’” Brosig said. “He’s a warrior. We had to play this one for him. Hopefully, we get him back.”
Early in the fourth quarter, De Pere’s offense was pinned back when Herman took off for a run but had the ball swatted out of his arms.
West De Pere’s Joseph Joiner recovered at De Pere’s 19.
The Phantoms had a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line when Mitchell fumbled, and Michael Alexander pounced on it at the 5.
De Pere had the ball with 7:06 remaining and worked into West De Pere territory.
Trying to conserve time, West De Pere called its final timeout with 2:31.
On a 3rd-and-3, Colwell earned a first down by inches, and De Pere ran out the clock.
Michalkiewicz said he was impressed with how West De Pere stayed with De Pere every step of the way.
“They’re a good football team,” Michalkiewicz said. “I’m a little curious how earlier in the season they struggled. They’re big, they’re physical and (Mithcell) is one of the best players in the area. Any time they have a kid of that caliber, it’s difficult to bury them.”
Herman finished 5-for-7 for 61 yards and a touchdown and added six carries for 82 yards and a score.
Colwell led the way with nine attempts with 95 and a touchdown.
De Pere’s offense finished the night with 27 carries for 241 yards.
West De Pere’s stats were unavailable as of the posting of this story.
Up next for West De Pere, it hosts Pulaski (5-1, 3-1), while De Pere hosts Notre Dame (3-3) Friday, Oct. 1.
“It doesn’t necessarily count for the conference championship race, but now that we’ve secured playoffs, we’re trying to work toward a home playoff – that’s the second goal you work toward,” Michalkiewicz said about his team’s game against Notre Dame. “It’s a huge conference game for us, and we’re going to take our best swing.”’
If De Pere wins its final two FRCC-North games, it will take the conference crown outright.
“We went Ashwaubenon, Bay Port, West De Pere, Notre Dame and Pulaski – that’s a tough stretch of football games,” Michalkiewicz said. “Whoever wins this conference championship will have earned it.”