By Greg BATES
DE PERE – Bay Port quarterback Cole Bensen isn’t going to be satisfied until his team plays a complete game.
To him, that means the Pirates’ offense scores on every possession and the defense pitches a shutout.
“I feel like we’re getting better, but I feel like we still haven’t reached that peak yet,” Bensen said.
Boy, that’s a scary thought for opposing defenses.
Bay Port used one of its patented strike-early-and-often scenarios against rival De Pere in a Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) matchup on Friday.
The result: A 42-14 triumph for Bay Port — its first in three seasons against De Pere.
“It stung really bad last year, especially — a little heartbreaker at the end,” said Bensen about the Pirates’ 19-15 loss to the Redbirds last year. “I’ve been living with that feeling for the whole entire year, and it felt really good to get this off my chest.”
Bensen shed that feeling quickly. He accounted for three rushing touchdowns, two passing scores and a 2-point conversion run.
A 21-0 lead just one play into the second quarter gave Bay Port a comfortable advantage.
“We jumped on them early,” Bay Port coach Gary Westerman said.
“Westy says a lot, ‘Just don’t give them hope,’” Bensen said. “When we score early, all that hope on that sideline starts to fade a little bit. So, that’s our big thing, don’t give them hope; don’t give it to them in big chunks.”
After De Pere (3-5, 3-3 FRCC) was forced to punt on its opening drive, Bensen was stripped on the first play of Bay Port’s drive. De Pere linebacker Michael Alexander recovered the ball at the Bay Port 36 to give his team great field position.
But instead of throwing the first punch at Bay Port (8-0, 6-0 FRCC), De Pere went three-and-out and had to punt.
On the Pirates’ first play of its next possession, Bensen kept the ball, found a seam on the left side and was off to the races. His 83-yard touchdown run put Bay Port up, 7-0.
Another De Pere three-and-out gave Bay Port the ball back at its own 48. Just a few plays later, Bensen found the end zone again, this time from 12 yards out.
“The fumble was scary,” Westerman said. “That first play, Bennie (Bensen) fumbled, we came right back to it and just wanted to be confident in him, and he went the distance.”
A botched De Pere return on the ensuing kickoff gave Bay Port the ball back with a shortened field. Bensen punched in his third rushing touchdown of the game, this time from 1 yard out for a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
De Pere pieced together a nice drive as quarterback Easton Arendt converted on a third-and-6 for a 16-yard touchdown scamper.
“We knew it’s going to be tough sledding moving the ball against them,” De Pere coach Ben Strickland said. “We wanted to be able to get some big plays on our side and prevent the big plays on their side. They did what we wanted to be able to do — they hit on the big plays and got us early, got ahead of us. I like the way our kids battled back to bring it to 21-7, though we had a chance with that kind of squib kick
to hopefully shift the momentum.”
Bay Port’s next two drives results in touchdown passes from Bensen to Ethan Houle (52 yards) and Brett Shipley (41 yards) to take a 34-7 lead into halftime.
Coming out of the break, Bay Port scored on its sixth consecutive drive. Carter Kallies had an 8-yard touchdown run and Bensen ran in the 2-point conversation and it was 42-7.
Arendt connected with Hayden May for a 31-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Bensen ended the night with 17 carries for 195 yards on the ground. He was 6-for-8 passing for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Blake Buchinger had 66 yards rushing on 11 attempts. Shipley led the receivers with three catches for 58 yards.
Arendt was 13-for-23 passing for De Pere for 138 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He had 44 yards rushing on 12 carries.
With all the fireworks happening on Bay Port’s offense, a special moment for the De Pere team and its fan occurred early in the game.
Redbirds star quarterback Gabe Herman — who suffered a torn MCL and bone fracture in his team’s season opener — was back on the field to take De Pere’s first offensive snap of the game. This was most likely De Pere’s first home game of the season.
“I just wanted to give him the send-off he deserves as a senior,” Strickland said. “He’s meant a lot to this program, and obviously we’ve got games in front of us, but didn’t know if we were going to be back here. We wanted to make sure he was sent out the right way. He’s a tremendous kid.”
Strickland let Westerman know earlier in the week that Herman would be playing just one down. Herman gingerly went into the team huddle and was given the option to pass or hand the ball off. He chose the latter, giving it to Alexander.
After the play, Herman was replaced by Arendt. He received a resounding cheer from the De Pere fans as he departed the field.
“It’s good to see him get out there,” Westerman said. “It’s always unfortunate when kids’ careers get
cut short on an injury like that.”
The win for Bay Port, ranked No. 2 in Division 1 in the latest WisSports.net Coaches Poll, sets up a matchup with fellow unbeaten West De Pere. The Phantoms (8-0, 6-0 FRCC) are ranked No. 3 in Division 2. The winner of that game at Bay Port on Friday will capture the FRCC-North title. (See special stories on the matchup later this week.) Bay Port should move up to No. 1 in the state after Mukwonago was upset by Kettle Moraine, 28-7.
As for De Pere, it will be playing for its season on Friday. It will travel to Ashwaubenon (3-5, 3-3 FRCC) where the winner will advance to the playoffs and the loser will be eliminated.
“Essentially playoffs start this week,” Strickland said.
By Greg BATES