By Greg Bates
DE PERE – For the first time this season, Caleb Rinard got to touch the ball on offense.
De Pere’s star linebacker is used to staying on his side of the ball, but with running back Sean Colwell out with an injury, Rinard got some carries in his team’s Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 2 Level 1 playoff game against Beaver Dam Friday.
Rinard ground out 47 yards on six carries, but his biggest run of the night didn’t occur on offense.
With Beaver Dam in the red zone and threatening to make it possibly a one-score game in the second quarter, Rinard intercepted a pass.
With a convoy of blockers in front of him, Rinard rumbled 90 yards the other way for a score.
That gem highlighted De Pere’s overall defensive masterpiece, as the No. 1-seeded Redbirds earned a 36-0 victory over No. 8 Beaver Dam.
De Pere’s defense had three interceptions in the game – two by Rinard and one by Jack Jorgensen – but it was the pick at their own 10 that took the wind out of the sails of Beaver Dam.
Facing a third-and-5 at De Pere’s 17, Beaver Dam quarterback Camron Mendoza eyed his receiver as Rinard dropped into coverage.
The linebacker made the perfect read.
“As soon as I intercepted the ball, I saw room and said to myself, ‘I’m going to see how many yards I can get,’” Rinard said. “I kept running, kept running, then eventually made a cut. I got a good block, got more great blocks, made a couple people miss and kept running, kept trying to get what I could. I was running out of gas there, but I ended up making it to the end zone.”
The touchdown put De Pere up 23-0 with 4:25 remaining in the first half.
From that point on, the Redbirds – winners of nine straight games – cruised.
“We dominated the game, especially our defense and our special teams I was happy with,” De Pere Head Coach Chad Michalkiewicz said. “We haven’t won a playoff game since 2015, so it’s a great night. We get to play another home game next week, so it’s awesome.”
Beaver Dam’s offense rides on the coattails of running back Gabe Klatt.
The sophomore rushed for 1,772 yards during the regular season, which was the fourth highest total in the state, but De Pere shut him down.
He had only 20 yards rushing in the opening half.
“Our coaches emphasized him lots,” Rinard said. “They would say, if he ever went in motion, ‘It’s probably (going to) him.’ If he’s ever out wide, ‘It’s probably him.’ They told us, ‘Make sure you know where 24 is on the field.’”
Linebacker Michael Alexander also praised his coaches.
“A huge shout-out to the coaches, and the scheme was amazing,” he said. “Without them, I don’t know what we’d be doing out there. That extra ’backer back there helps us lots.”
De Pere’s defense came to play, pitching its third shutout of the season.
It was the first time Beaver Dam, which came into the game averaging 24.1 points per game, had been held scoreless this year.
“Lights out,” Michalkiewicz said. “I’ll tell you what, that Klatt, he’s only a sophomore, that kid’s the real deal. Our defense played terrific tonight.”
Alexander, who had a team-leading nine tackles on the night, said he feels like the defense is just getting started.
“We’re getting better every day,” he said. “As the season goes on and each game happens from now on, we’re going to keep on getting better. Teams are going to have a tough time scoring against us.”
De Pere, ranked No. 3 in Division 2, didn’t play its cleanest game of the year.
It turned the ball over four times – two Gabe Herman interceptions and two fumbles – which was a season high.
“Believe it or not, none of the four really bother me,” Michalkiewicz said. “That can’t happen, though. … We can’t do that and win, but none of them individually give me cause for concern.”
The De Pere players aren’t too worried, either.
“We got a shutout win in Round 1 of the playoffs, that’s all that matters, that’s all we’re worried about,” Rinard said. “We’re moving on to next week.”
De Pere’s defense stuffed a fourth-and-1 on Beaver Dam’s second possession to get the ball at the Redbirds’ 36.
De Pere (9-1) needed three plays to score as Herman hit Grant Hohol for a 35-yard touchdown to go up 7-0 after the extra point.
After forcing Beaver Dam (4-6) to punt, De Pere capped a 70-yard drive with a Herman-to-Devin Koskey 22-yard touchdown pass, making it 14-0 in the first quarter after the extra point.
A bad snap as Beaver Dam attempted to punt ended up in the end zone as a Golden Beaver player pounced on it to give De Pere a safety.
After the free kick, Beaver Dam intercepted Herman and brought it down to De Pere’s 22.
Three plays later is when Rinard’s aforementioned interception occurred.
“It makes me smile,” Alexander said about Rinard’s pick-6. “He works his butt off and to see him make the plays he made today in the playoffs, it’s a big deal.”
De Pere, which had 341 yards of total offense, held its 23-0 lead until the fourth quarter when Herman scored on a 2-yard run.
Backup quarterback Micah Schaut raced in for a 3-yard touchdown with 2:19 remaining in the game.
Herman finished the night 9-for-13 passing for 148 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
He added 26 yards on the ground.
Koskey was De Pere’s leading rusher with 13 carries for 67 yards.
Jack May had five catches for 39 yards, and Noah Gehin had a team-high 52 receiving yards.
Up next, De Pere will host No. 4-seeded Hartford Friday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m.
Hartford (7-3) is coming off a 14-13 victory over state-ranked Kaukauna.
“This is why you want home-field advantage,” Michalkiewicz said. “Beaver Dam had a long road trip, now Hartford’s got to get on the bus and come here, so that will count for something. Every time you get a little bit deeper in the playoffs, you’re playing a good football team, so we’re going to have to get ready to go.”
Being prepared, keeping their heads down and their eyes on the prize is what the De Pere players are all about.
“This is one game at a time,” Rinard said. “This is a process The games are going to get harder, and I’m ready for it. I hope our guys are ready for it. We’re ready to prove what we can do.”