LEVEL 3 PLAYOFFS: Bay Port holds on to beat Appleton North
By Rich Palzewic
SUAMICO – After the Bay Port football team won its WIAA Division 1 Level 3 game against Appleton North on Friday, fans got what they’ve been waiting for — a date with Kimberly in the state semifinals next week.
The Pirates (12-0), the No. 1-ranked Division 1 team in the state, advanced to face the Papermakers (11-1) after a hard-fought 17-10 victory over the Lightning at Bay Port High School.
With rain falling throughout, Bay Port hung on after North’s fourth-down pass attempt late in the game fell incomplete.
“I’m proud of the team — we overcame a lot,” Bay Port coach Gary Westerman said. “Appleton North is a really good football team.”
The Pirates led 10-0 at the half before junior defensive back Noah Holtz picked off a Luke Kritzer pass less than a minute into the second half and sprinted 22 yards for a score.
“It felt great,” Holtz said. “We’re a final four team, and it felt good to contribute. It was a bubble screen, and I knew (the receiver) was going to run short — I was right there to pick it. That was my first career varsity interception.”
Westerman said Holtz has come a long way this season.
“Noah is a guy who has taken some hard coaching this year,” he said. “For him to take that coaching, get better and make a play like that was huge — we needed that. He’s a great kid, but early in the season, he wasn’t necessarily locked into his keys and assignments. He made a few big plays tonight.”
After Holtz’s pick-six, Bay Port struggled to move the ball.
“We got pinned down on our end of the field and couldn’t get anything positive going on offense,” Westerman said. “That can’t happen against Kimberly, otherwise we’ll be in for a long night.”
The Pirates gained only 22 yards of total offense after intermission.
To go along with its seven shutouts on the season, the Lightning (9-3) came into the game surrendering only 6.4 points per game defensively.
Gaining only 189 of total offense for the night, Bay Port marched 80 yards in 11 plays on the opening drive of the game.
Quarterback Cole Bensen’s 13-yard toss to Collin Gehl halfway through the first quarter gave the Pirates a 7-0 lead after Owen Bellisle’s extra point.
Despite the wet conditions, Bay Port came out throwing — completing two passes in the first three plays of the game.
“We got into some stuff we liked early, so that was a credit to our offensive staff,” Westerman said. “I was happy with our execution on that first drive.”
Bensen, who added 44 yards rushing on 17 carries, was 9 of 19 passing for 84 yards.
After the teams traded punts, North had its best drive of the first half — marching to the Pirates’ 7-yard line before a high snap over Kritzer’s head resulted in a fumble recovery by Mason Clark.
Four combined punts later, the Pirates drove 78 yards in 13 plays to the Lightning’s 8-yard line late in the first half.
Bellisle’s 25-yard field goal as the first-half horn sounded resulted in a 10-0 lead.
The Lightning, who gained 247 yards of offense, finally got on the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Kritzer to Caden Popp.
Popp’s 35-yard field goal with 2:03 remaining closed the gap to 17-10.
On the ensuing possession, Bay Port tried to run out the clock, but a Bensen interception on third down gave North one last chance.
Running back Blake Buchinger led the Pirates with 57 yards rushing on 13 carries, while Hunter Atkielski had an interception.
With a trip to the state championship game on the line, Westerman will see a familiar face on the Kimberly sideline — Chad Michalkiewicz.
Michalkiewicz, in his first year at Kimberly, was the former coach at De Pere.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to be there,” Westerman said. “Kimberly is an excellent team. Their offensive line is good, they have a good running back, the quarterback throws it well and they play sound defense. We’re going to have to score.”
The Pirates will be looking to get back to the state title game for the second time in four years. Bay Port lost the 2019 title game at Camp Randall to Muskego, 21-10.