By Greg Bates
As the old adage goes, defense wins championships.
The way the West De Pere football team’s defense is locking down its opponents combined with the Phantoms’ electric offense, a championship could be in store this season.
West De Pere held a good New Richmond rushing attack to just 17 yards and Najeh Mitchell put up over 100 yards rushing and a pair of scores as the Phantoms earned a 21-6 road victory in a WIAA Division 2 Level 2 game on Oct. 28.
“Our defense, besides one play, they were pretty awesome,” West De Pere coach Chris Greisen said. “Their really good running back ended up having 30 yards total. It was pretty awesome.
“Our defensive line just dominated. Andrew Baumgart was a man. He was a man among boys in there — just really proud of him.”
West De Pere’s defense has now surrendered just 13 points in its first two playoff games.
West De Pere, the No. 3 seed, had its offense take a little while to going against No. 2-seeded New Richmond.
“I started changing my play-calling a little bit, being a little bit more aggressive and the kids responded and did a great job,” Greisen said.
Mitchell, the Phantoms’ explosive running back, took a direct snap from the wildcat formation and went around the right end untouched for a 30-yard touchdown with 4:52 remaining in the first half.
West De Pere (10-1) got the ball back late in the second quarter and Mitchell scored from 3 yards out to make it 14-0.
The Phantoms got the ball first out of half. Langdon Nordgaard caught a third-down pass for about 35 yards to set up his team at the 1-yard line. From there, quarterback Duke Shovald plunged in to make a three-score game.
Greisen was impressed by Nordgaard’s game with five catches for 92 yards.
“I don’t want to say he had a coming out party, but, man, he was dominant catching slant passes, in routes,” Greisen said. “He just looked big out there, massive.”
New Richmond, ranked No. 10 in Division 2 in the final regular-season WisSports.net Coaches Poll, had its offense held in check.
The Tigers finally got on the board late in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Reis Hidde — in for injured Seamus Scanlan, who left in the fourth — hit Drew Effertz for a 12-yard touchdown on a blown coverage in West De Pere’s secondary.
New Richmond (7-4) had 24 rushing attempts for 17 yards. Its star running back Andrew Trandahl had 15 carries for a season-low 30 yards.
“It starts with our coaching staff and our defensive coordinator Keegan Wirtz,” said Greisen about his defense. “They do a great job of scheming and seeing what offenses do and tendencies. Then, obviously, our players have to play, but they teach them the techniques to be successful. It’s really been fun to watch.”
Shovald had a nice game passing for the Phantoms. He was 13-for-17 for 200 yards. Mitchell had 23 carries for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
West De Pere had a nice balanced attack with 200 yards passing and 153 yards rushing.
“They gave us some looks that allowed us to run a little bit more and our offensive line embraced the challenge and really got after it,” Greisen said. “Najeh, man, he just really ran hard. He’s explosive, but he also got those hard yards where he put down his shoulder. I was just really impressed.”
West De Pere passed its first road test of the postseason with flying colors and it will have a second test this Friday night. The Phantoms will head to top-seeded River Falls. The Wildcats (10-1) were ranked No. 7 in the final state poll. They downed conference foe New Richmond 25-19 during the regular season.
“They’re a downhill team, and they’re going to line up and just smash you,” Greisen said. “I would say they’re a very similar style to Bay Port, to be honest with you. They’re just not as big as a Bay Port team. But they’re going to line up, they run power, they run counter, they run the pin-and-pull schemes, and their quarterback is a good runner. And they can throw the ball, they have a dangerous receiver in (Jordan Karras). He does a good job.”
River Falls averages 26.2 points per game on offense, but has put up 35.7 points per game in the last three games. The Wildcats advanced by beating Marshfield 36-21 in Level 2.
“I’m excited to watch our defense work,” Greisen said. “I’m watching Marshfield and some of these other teams and good teams. But as far as a linebacking corps, I don’t think anyone has the caliber of linebackers that we’re blessed with in JJ (Joseph Joiner) and Isaac Kaster. Then our outside linebackers with Thomas Mudd and Shane Kempen and Kruise VandenHeuvel, we’ve got some guys that can really play. We’ll have a great gameplan and I’m confident for them, but the guys will have to execute.”
By Greg Bates