De Pere falls on fourth-quarter TD by Wausau West
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – After he took his first snap, Easton Arendt felt comfortable and settled in.
The De Pere quarterback — who was playing defensive back in the season opener before being thrust into the starting job under center — got his first career start under his belt.
Filling in for injured Gabe Herman, Arendt ran for two touchdowns against visiting Wausau West on Thursday. However, it wasn’t enough.
Clinging to a six-point lead, De Pere’s defense allowed a go-ahead touchdown on a fourth down in the fourth quarter and Wausau West held on for a 21-20 victory.
The Redbirds drop to 0-2 under new coach Ben Strickland. The two losses matches how many De Pere had in 2020 and ’21 combined.
“The kids came out and played hard, they played fast, they played physical. We’ve just got some things we’ve got to clean up,” Strickland said. “Obviously, you can’t win a ballgame when you have 11 offensive plays in the second half. We’ve got to get off the field on defense and we’ve got to keep the defense off the field by churning the clock out and getting first downs on offense. …
“I was pleased by the effort, the focus that these kids had this week.”
De Pere was throttled 46-7 in the season opener by Neenah as Herman suffered a torn MCL and bone fracture. He’s expected to miss around six weeks.
Arendt, a junior, had a full week of practice to prepare for his first start.
“Coming out of the gate, I felt a little nervous, but as the first play went on is when things felt a lot more comfortable,” Arendt said.
Strickland used a more vanilla playbook in the passing game to get Arendt adjusted in the pocket. The junior completed seven passes for 69 yards.
“I was proud of him, what he put into it,” Strickland said. “I think now we’ll be able to kind of move forward and understand what strengths he’s got and how we can tighten that up and make the reads simpler for him.
“He’s a competitive kid and he’s been in games, in moments, so the lights are too big for him, and that’s what I love about him. He’s going to continue to get better, and our relationship coach to player will continue to tighten up and will continue to do right by this team.”
Arendt was aided all week in practice by Herman. The star quarterback watched the game intently from a wheelchair in the corner of the end zone.
“Gabe helped me out quite a bit,” Arendt said. “He’s been in my corner since the game he got hurt last week and he’s been telling me what he’s seen over the week. At halftime, I went over by him and he gave me some insight from what he was seeing from back where he was sitting.”
De Pere’s three touchdown drives were for a total of 56 yards, utilizing short fields. However, when the Redbirds had to start a drive on their side of the field, they couldn’t march down and score.
“It all starts with winning first down — if we can get four or more yards on first down, we’ll easily get another first down off of that,” Arendt said. “That’s when more of the pass game comes in, making those plays that I need to make. I need to make pass completions to get up field and that’s where we can make it the full length of the field.”
On De Pere’s second offensive series of the game, it got the ball starting at the Wausau West 28 after a shanked punt. The Redbirds needed just five plays to score as Devin Koskey raced in from 5 yards out; Arendt kicked the extra point to make it 7-0.
Wausau West — which beat De Pere 38-14 in last season’s opener — answered five minutes later. Quarterback Vince Hanz had a 2-yard touchdown to tie it.
De Pere was forced to punt midway through the second quarter. The ball hit off a Wausau West player and Brennan Kincade recovered at the Warriors’ 25.
With a short field again, the Redbirds needed just two plays to get into the end zone. Hayden May had a 23-yard run and Arendt capped it with a 2-yard score.
But, again, the lead didn’t last long. Hanz had a 6-yard touchdown run to tie it late in the opening half.
The Redbirds got their third opportunity to start another drive in Wausau West territory. A snap sailed over the punter’s head and Greyson Fezatte recovered at the 3-yard line.
Arendt ran it in from 2 yards out, but the extra point went awry. That proved to be costly.
The Warriors pieced together a long drive. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 12, West took a timeout. It pulled out a little razzle dazzle as wide receiver Carter Amerson took a reverse, got an angle and scored.
The extra point put Wausau West up 21-20 with 8:22 remaining.
“We thought they would have some kind of isolation with their passing game and they go with the reverse,” Strickland said. “Kiddos to them on the call. A corner slipped inside, they got the edge and that was that.”
De Pere, looking to take the lead back, started its drive with a 9-yard run and a 13-yard jaunt by Lucas Koskey. After two short runs, the Redbirds faced a third-and-7 and Arendt was sacked.
De Pere was forced to punt with 5 ½ minutes remaining, and it never got the ball back as Wausau West converted critical first downs.
With the nonconference schedule behind them, De Pere now goes into the thick of the tough conference slate. Up first, Pulaski on Sept. 2 in De Pere.
“We’ve got to make sure that we shore up some things defensively,” Strickland said. “You saw the improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 where we were, so I think we make those gains moving forward from Week 2 to 3. I’m encouraged by that.”
Arendt is also optimistic the team can turn things around after a tough start to the season.
“I think conference will be a heck of a lot different than what these last two games have been,” Arendt said. “We’ve been fighting hard in these last two, but once conference comes next week, it’s going to be a whole different level.”