Home » Sports » FRIDAY’S SHOWDOWN, BAY PORT VS. WEST DE PERE: From Bay Port’s perspective


By Rich Palzewic
With Mukwonago and Neenah each losing their Week 8 games, the Bay Port football team moved up to the No. 1 spot in Division 1 in this week’s WisSports.net Coaches Poll — just in time for its big showdown this Friday vs. undefeated West De Pere.
The Pirates (8-0 overall, 6-0 Fox River Classic Conference) will host the Phantoms (8-0, 6-0), the No. 3-ranked team in Division 2, on Friday at 7 p.m. with a conference title on the line.
“The kids and us coaches are excited to be a part of such a big game,” Bay Port coach Gary Westerman said. “We’ve had some big crowds this season, so the atmosphere should be electric. Friday’s game will be great for high school students — it’ll be something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Bay Port is averaging almost 41 points per game offensively while giving up only nine points per game defensively.
“Obviously, with the way West De Pere is playing and what they’ve done this season, I’m expecting a good game,” Westerman said. “They’re well coached, skilled on offense and disciplined on defense. We have to focus on ourselves and block out all the other stuff. We can’t turn the ball over, and we have to limit or eliminate big plays.”
Westerman said the Phantoms remind him of his own team.
“In some ways, they’re similar to us — we’re built the same,” he said. “From an offensive perspective, both teams like to run the football. Defensively, we’re both disciplined and fast.”
The Pirates’ biggest challenge defensively will be stopping the 1-2 punch of running back Najeh Mitchell and quarterback Duke Shovald.
The senior Mitchell has rushed for 954 yards on 164 carries (5.8 yards per carry) with 18 touchdowns, while the junior Shovald is 96-for-154 passing for 1,274 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Najeh is fast and explosive out of the backfield in the passing game, too,” Westerman said. “He’s capable of scoring a touchdown on any touch. Shovald is one of the best passers we’ve seen this season. We’ve seen several good quarterbacks, so hopefully, that will prepare us.”
Bay Port is led offensively by senior quarterback Cole Bensen and a bruising running game.
“We have a great team dynamic and go about our practices the right way,” Bensen said. “We play for each other — all 11 dudes on both sides of the ball play for each other.”
Bensen is 52-of-91 passing for 921 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s also the leading rusher with 879 yards on 118 carries (7.4 average) and 16 touchdowns.
Junior Blake Buchinger has added 743 yards rushing on 109 carries (6.8 average) and six touchdowns.
“I had the drive to be better this season than I was last year,” Bensen said. “The coaches implemented some new stuff this offseason, so I worked hard learning it all. I can break down the game better.”
Bensen said he’s watched film on the Phantoms.
“They have good athletes on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “They’re good defending the pass and have some guys who can stuff the run — they’re a really good team.”
Landon Gauthier, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior linebacker for the Pirates, has 42 tackles.
“I think our success this season is because we’ve been able to adapt to the offense we’re playing against,” Gauthier said. “Against De Pere (Oct. 7), they were making changes in their play calls from the sideline while they were lined up. Our coaches would call another play as (De Pere) was changing their play — it messed with them.”
Like Bensen, Gauthier said he’s watched plenty of film on West De Pere.
“We have to keep pressure on (Shovald) — he’s good,” Gauthier said. “We can’t let him get comfortable in the pocket back there. Najeh is a great back, so I think our defense will go off what he does.”
Gauthier has been getting Division I looks from Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota and has offers from Wyoming and North Dakota State University.
Defensively, Kaeden Lewis (44 tackles), AJ Courchaine (48), Tommy Hall (63) and Josiah Azure (91) have all had solid seasons.
The Pirates, who last won a conference title in 2019 — the same year they went to the Division 1 state title game — have rolled through their eight games this season.
“We have a great group of kids and probably the best coaching staff we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Westerman said. “It’s a combination of all of us working together — the kids have embraced that.”

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