By Greg Bates
DE PERE – Last year’s last-second victory by De Pere still stings for Pulaski standout Maverick Cole.
Pulaski had a shot at winning the Fox River Classic Conference-North title, but that dream faded with the loss.
This season, Cole and the Red Raiders got their revenge.
The senior running back rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns as Pulaski built a lead and staved off De Pere late, scoring a 24-18 win on the road.
“It’s great because all the seniors last year, they didn’t get that win, so this was sort of for them tonight,” Cole said. “We really played our hearts out and remember all those guys and we’re just a family.”
Pulaski coach Jerad Marsh wasn’t about to call this year’s victory over De Pere a part of revenge.
“You try to get every one of the conference games and you try not to make one bigger than the next,” Marsh said. “But the guys had a chance to do something that hadn’t been done at our school for a long time and De Pere was able to nick us at the end, kudos for them. It’s one of those things the old guys put in the back of their mind, but they prepared like any other week and they were ready to go.”
The way Pulaski was running the ball — amassing 259 yards as a team on 48 attempts — a blowout could have happened. However, De Pere’s defense kept them in the game with its bend-but-not-break outcomes.
De Pere’s defense forced two turnovers in Pulaski’s first four possessions of the game. On a drive down to the 2-yard line at the end of the half, the Redbirds kept the Red Raiders out of the end zone.
De Pere’s offense on the other hand struggled for the first 46 ½ minutes of the game. The team finished with 169 yards on 56 plays (three yards per play).
“Like we talked about after the game, against good opponents and really good opponents like Pulaski, you have to execute on all phases of the ball,” De Pere coach Ben Strickland said. “Offensively, I thought we had a great week of practice and we executed at a high level, come out to the game and we had guys going the wrong way on zone, we had guys being impatient as far as our footwork. So, it’s on all of us to try and understand what our one-eleventh is and focus on that, making sure we’re doing our part.”
While Pulaski, ranked No. 4 in Division 2 in the latest WisSports.net Coaches Poll, moved to 3-0, De Pere dropped to 0-3. It’s the worst start in program history since 2010 when the team finished 1-8. It’s uncharted territory for the De Pere program of late, losing a combined two games in the previous two seasons.
“We’ve had early season adversity and outcomes haven’t gone our way, but I don’t feel like an 0-3 ballclub with the way our guys compete,” Strickland said.
On Pulaski’s first offensive play of the game, Aidan McDougal took a handoff, went into the middle of the De Pere defense and was stripped. Mason Krueger came away with the ball and raced 40 yards untouched for a De Pere touchdown.
Pulaski answered with a 7-yard Cole TD.
After another Red Raiders fumble, the offense got the ball back. Cole ripped off a 66-yard run all the way down to the De Pere 7. Two plays later, Cole waltzed into the end zone for a 1-yard score and a 14-6 lead.
De Pere’s offense went three-and-out and Pulaski mounted another drive. Facing a fourth-and-goal at the 2, Logan Shultz took a handoff and was stoned in the hole by De Pere linebacker Michael Alexander.
Clinging to a 14-6 lead, Marsh knows his team could have easily been up three or four touchdowns at halftime.
“Like every team, there’s growing pains and ours is no different,” Marsh said. “We have seniors in positions to make plays and sometimes they don’t, but luckily when you have a senior that goes through that trial or that valley that they’re just a little more able to handle it. Alright, we have a guy first play put the ball on the ground and they return one (for a touchdown). It’s a senior that put it on the ground, but gosh darn it, if he didn’t come back then and was able to use that as a motivator to be great the rest of the game. We found that with any one of them that maybe had a bump in the road, they were able to come back and pick their game up and pick up the guys around them.”
Pulaski got a 27-yard field goal from Samuel Murphy near the end of the third quarter to make it 17-6.
The Red Raiders seemingly put the game away midway through the fourth quarter as they pieced together a 62-yard drive on seven plays. Pulaski converted a third-and-14 on the play as McDougal had an 18-yard catch to the De Pere 27.
Cole bounced it outside for a 7-yard touchdown to give Pulaski a 24-6 advantage.
De Pere quarterback Easton Arendt, who was 14-for-29 through the air for 91 yards, had a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:31 remaining in the game.
The Redbirds recovered an onside kick and didn’t waste much time scoring again. Arendt connected with tight end Noah Gehin for a 10-yard touchdown with 32.5 seconds left on the clock. De Pere missed its third extra point of the night.
Another onside kick was recovered by Pulaski to end the comeback.
Pulaski’s Logan Shultz finished the night with 18 carries for 89 yards. He was also 5-for-5 throwing for 70 yards.
De Pere’s leading runner was Arendt with 65 yards on 14 attempts.
The win for Pulaski sets up a monster matchup next Friday night at Bay Port. The Pirates, ranked No. 4 in Division 1, have outscored their opponents 117-24 in the first three weeks.
“Bay Port’s always been a hard one for us, so we’re going to go give it our all and do our thing,” Cole said.
Marsh knows his defense is going to have to come to play against Bay Port’s high-octane offense.
“I think our defense is one of the best in the area,” Marsh said. “Coach Rodal, coach Waggoner, coach Krizizke, they do a great job getting those guys prepared. They fly around, they are a physical defense.
“We’re going to try our best against one of the big schools in our conference that has a ton of talent, there’s no question about it. We’re going to try to scrap and keep in there and our guys want that challenge, they’re not going to buckle from it. We’ll see where it goes. I think it’s just going to be two really good football teams playing against each other on a Friday night and a great rivalry. It’s going to be a great atmosphere and we’re excited for that situation.”
By Greg Bates