By Greg Bates
DE PERE – Najeh Mitchell had to wait one year to redeem himself.
The West De Pere running back was disappointed after his team fell 21-16 to De Pere in 2021.
On Friday night, Mitchell played an integral part in getting the Phantoms back in the win column against their crosstown rival.
The senior scored a third-quarter touchdown to give West De Pere a 14-point lead and the defense then held off De Pere in a 21-13 victory in Fox River Classic Conference play at West De Pere.
The West De Pere players were able to hoist the new “Battle of the Bridge” trophy given to the winner of the rivalry game.
The win was a burden off the shoulders of Mitchell.
“I felt like the loss we had last year was mainly on me,” he said. “I fumbled right at the end, so it felt nice (to win this year).
“As a whole, we had a great game. Defense, we slipped up at the end, but they picked it up and kept us in the whole game.”
West De Pere came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 4 in Division 2 in the latest WisSports.net Coaches Poll. De Pere, on the other hand, was on a two-game winning streak after dropping its first three games of the season.
It was a big game in many regards for the Phantoms.
“I think that’s an understatement,” West De Pere coach Chris Greisen joked. “When you’ve got east De Pere and West De Pere, ‘The Battle of the Bridge,’ that’s huge. Throw out the records; it doesn’t matter if you’re undefeated or you have a losing record. It’s going to be a battle.
“Super, super proud of these kids and the way they battled all night.”
The potent West De Pere offense entered the game averaging 40.6 points per game. De Pere’s young defense came alive, allowing just seven first-half points.
“I appreciate the ways our guys battled,” first-year De Pere coach Ben Strickland said. “Our defense kept us in it in the first half and (we) had to execute offensively better both calling plays and executing the plays. But I think guys came out in the second half.
“Obviously, it’s a big rivalry, so you knew that there was going to be a lot of emotion involved in it. But it’s a matter of coming down, tempering that emotion and making sure that you can execute. Proud of the guys the way they kept fighting.”
On De Pere’s third play from scrimmage, quarterback Easton Arendt fumbled and West De Pere recovered at its own 42-yard line.
Phantoms quarterback Duke Shovald hit Ryder Lesage for a 31-yard gain down to the Redbirds’ 31.
A few plays later, Andrew Kroll scored his first career touchdown on an 11-yard swing pass to give West De Pere a 7-0 advantage.
De Pere (2-4, 2-2 FRCC) got down to West De Pere’s 11-yard line late in the first half, but sacks by Alexander Rottier and Andrew Baumgart stalled the drive.
West De Pere (6-0, 4-0 FRCC) opened the third quarter with an impressive possession. A little trickery got the Phantoms moving down the field as Lesage hit fellow wide receiver Langdon Nordgaard for a 34-yard pass down to the 1.
After a penalty, Mitchell scored on a 6-yard run to put the home team up, 14-0.
One play after converting on a third-and-16, De Pere got into the end zone as Michael Alexander scored on a 7-yard run. A missed point-after attempt left it at 14-6.
West De Pere marched down the field on its next drive as Shovald connected with Joseph Joiner for a 4-yard touchdown.
“I think the biggest drive that we had was when they scored and then we answered,” Greisen said. “And we answered by running, timely passes and had a huge, huge pass by Duke on the naked (bootleg) to a backup fullback, who stepped in, Andrew Kroll, who had a touchdown tonight. Just a tremendous,
tremendous play by that kid. Again, he stepped in, he was playing minimal reps and this is what we ask these guys, ‘Be ready, because you never know,’ and he was.”
De Pere attempted a late comeback as Arendt spotted a wide open Grant Hohol after defensive back Thomas Walder fell down. Hohol hauled in a pass and ran for a 71-yard touchdown to pull the Redbirds within eight points.
With just 3:14 remaining in the fourth quarter, Strickland opted for an onside kick, but West De Pere’s Sutter Deschane recovered. The Phantoms needed just one first down to run out the clock for the win.
Greisen was impressed with how his defense played against De Pere.
“I thought they did a great job, especially in the first half to hold them scoreless,” Greisen said. “Except for that one long pass where Thomas trips, we hold them to one score. They’re a pretty good team, well coached.”
De Pere was led by Arendt who was 9-for-15 passing for 148 yards on one touchdown and one interception. Hohol finished with 84 yards on a pair of catches.
Alexander paced the De Pere runners with nine carries for 48 yards and a score.
West De Pere stats weren’t available as of this posting.
With a 2-2 record in conference, De Pere will have to win two of its final three regular-season games in order to qualify for the postseason.
West De Pere is already in the playoffs with its eye on the conference crown. It has Green Bay Southwest and Green Bay Preble before ending the regular season at fellow undefeated Bay Port. It appears as though the winner of that game will be the FRCC-North champs.
“We’ve just got to finish out these next couple weeks and then we’ll be prepared for Bay Port,” Mitchell said.
By Greg Bates