By Greg Bates
Chris Greisen will be the first to tell anyone his coaches and players with the West De Pere football program concentrate on one game at a time.
But when this season’s schedule was announced, everyone’s eyes jumped to one game: Oct. 14, the last week of the regular season, at Bay Port.
The Pirates, winners of the Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) four of the last five seasons, came into the season favored to win another conference crown.
When Greisen, the third-year coach at West De Pere, met with the parents during a preseason meeting, the Bay Port game was of high priority.
“We said, ‘This is the goal,’” Greisen said. “The goal is to win a conference championship. We knew that if that was going to happen, we were probably going to have to be undefeated and play the last game against arguably the best team in the state. We’re excited for the opportunity, we really are. We planned on being here. We talked about it, it was one of our goals.”
That game that’s been circled multiple times on the schedule is here. It will take place at what will be a packed Bay Port High School this Friday at 7 p.m.
West De Pere is sitting in the position it had hoped to be in facing Bay Port: undefeated with the conference title up for grabs.
And Bay Port is right where it wants to be with an identical 8-0 record and 6-0 in the FRCC.
Bay Port moved to up No. 1 in Division 1 in the latest WisSports.net Coaches Poll after previous top-ranked Mukwonago was upset last week. West De Pere is ranked No. 3 in Division 2.
“Something to look forward to all year,” West De Pere junior defensive back Carter Schmitt said. “You get the schedule early and you see that we’re playing Bay Port last game of the season. I don’t think any of us expected to be playing it for a conference championship last game.
“We’re really excited for it. I think we’ll be well prepared.”
Greisen said he and his coaching staff have been preparing the players all season for this game.
“It’s not just a one-week thing,” Greisen said. “We’ve been building this team and they’ve been building themselves. We’ve been talking about building grit this whole year, and they have. This is why we’re sitting in the position we are at 8-0 and able to play against a great team like Bay Port for a conference championship.”
One major key for West De Pere will be slowing down Bay Port’s explosive offense.
The Pirates have jumped on opponents early and often this season. Against Ashwaubenon in Week 7, Bay Port was up 21-0 just eight minutes in as the Jaguars’ offense had only six plays up to that point. Last week against De Pere, Bay Port led by three touchdowns again, this time two plays into the second quarter.
If West De Pere is going to have a shot to pull off a victory, it can’t allow Bay Port to get off to a quick start.
“I think it’s just a mindset going into the game — we’re playing Bay Port, not the University of Alabama, so we don’t need to be intimidated,” Schmitt said. “I think we just go out there and play our game like we have all year long. Our defense I think just about every game we’ve come out and brought it to them. So, we’re just looking to stay the same and bring it to them, starting from the first snap on Friday.”
“Our big thing is you can’t come out flat,” West De Pere junior quarterback Duke Shovald said. “If we come out hot and we come out confident and prepared, I would say I don’t think that they’re going to do that to us.”
Bay Port is averaging 41.1 points per game — 47.3 in its last four games.
Greisen knows his team has to play sound defensively to keep with the Pirates.
“One of the things they do a great job of, especially offensively, is they have a lot of different formations,” Greisen said. “They don’t show a whole lot of tendencies, so we’re going to have to play really sound football. But our kids have been doing it all year. When you go against a team like Pulaski and east De Pere and all those types of teams, Kaukauna, you have to be fundamentally sound, otherwise you’re not going to win those games.”
West De Pere’s defense has been playing well all season. It is surrendering just 11.5 points per game and has logged three shutouts.
But the Phantoms haven’t faced an offense like Bay Port’s all season.
Pirates quarterback Cole Bensen is the definition of a dual threat. He’s had 118 rushing attempts for 879 yards and 16 touchdowns. Through the air, the senior is 52-for-91 for 921 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Bay Port also has a trio of talented running backs in Blake Buchinger (743 yards rushing, six touchdowns), Carter Kallies (247 yards rushing, two touchdowns) and Tevyn Montgomery (goal-line back with four scores).
“They have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things,” said Schmitt, who has a team-leading five interceptions. “They’re very versatile with where they line guys up, bringing receivers in the backfield. They’ve got a lot of speed and they can run the ball. Great offensive line makes the guys who are running the ball’s job easier. They look pretty good on film.”
Offensively, West De Pere has been playing well all season. It is averaging 38 points per game, but Bay Port’s defense is allowing a stingy nine points per contest.
Greisen said Bay Port is well coached with a great defensive scheme. That’s a recipe for success, especially with multiple players receiving Division I college offers.
“Any defense has holes and that’s for me and my offensive staff to try to define those holes,” Greisen said. “We have to protect our quarterback and in the run game make sure that we’re getting proper angles and all that kind of stuff. That’s our job as coaches to put our kids in a great position. They only play with 11 guys, not 13, even though it seems like it sometimes because they’re such great athletes and well coached.”
Shovald, who is 96-for-154 passing for 1,274 yards and 14 touchdowns and two interceptions, made it clear that the Phantoms’ offense has yet to click on all cylinders.
“We’re definitely not at full potential yet,” Shovald said. “We have a ton of playmakers, the offensive line’s great and we’re almost there.”
Shovald knows it’s going to take a great offensive effort to beat Bay Port.
“First, we’ve got to capitalize on big plays, we haven’t really lately,” Shovald said. “Najeh’s been great, O-line’s been great, but we’ve got to make the big plays, and that’s the difference maker.”
West De Pere all-everything Najeh Mitchell has had a dynamic senior season. He’s had 164 carries for 954 yards and 18 touchdowns; he also has 196 yards receiving and one score.
But if the Phantoms are going to have a chance to win this game, Mitchell can’t do it alone.
“This is going to have to be a team effort,” Greisen said. “This is not going to be the Najeh Mitchell Show or Duke Shovald or anything like that. Everyone’s going to have to be involved. I always tell our guys, our scout team, they have to do a great job this week in preparing us and giving us a good look. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean anything. You can’t really duplicate exactly what Bay Port’s defense or offense is, but you do the best you can.”
Greisen, who had stints in the NFL with Arizona, Dallas and Washington, played in some big games during his career. That includes his days at Sturgeon Bay and then Northwest Missouri State University.
He knows what kind of moment this is for his young players.
“This is what it’s all about when you get games like this — end of the year, conference championship against one of the best teams in the state, no one thinks you’re going to win,” Greisen said. “I told our kids, ‘Enjoy this. Enjoy this ride, man. This is awesome. And now we can go shock the world.’”
By Greg Bates