Port football team overcomes miscues, Nicolet rally to secure much-needed win in conference home opener
The Port Washington Pirates wouldn’t have received high marks for artistic merit last Friday night at Al Urness Field.
But the only numbers that counted in a hard-fought football game glowed brightly on the scoreboard: Port 28, Nicolet 21.
“It was a much-needed win, that’s for sure,” said Pirates coach John Bunyan, whose team used a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to prevail in a seesaw North Shore Conference contest.
“We made some mistakes, but the kids played hard. It was a great night to play some football, and it was an exciting game.”
The Pirates, who were coming off a shutout loss to Homestead in their league opener, put themselves in position twice to take control of an upstart Nicolet team on Parents Night.
Each time, the Knights fought back.
Port built a 14-3 lead in the first half only to have Nicolet rally for a 14-14 tie at intermission.
In the fourth quarter, the Pirates surged ahead, 28-14. After quarterback Aidan Wojciehowski threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Darius Will, who made a leaping catch in the end zone, Port appeared to put the game out of reach when Marty Franzkowiak broke free for a 69-yard scoring run with 6 minutes, 26 seconds left.
But the Knights made things interesting two plays into their next possession. From his own 42, quarterback Gabriel Kinzer lofted a pass down field to Tyler Crass, who outjumped a defensive back for the ball, spun away and raced into the end zone.
Brandon Levy’s extra point pulled Nicolet within 28-21.
After holding Port with a defensive stand that forced a three-and-out, the Knights got the ball back at their 16 with 3:03 left.
Nicolet picked up a first down before being pushed back by a blocking penalty that left it facing a fourth-and-25.
Crass came through once more, this time making a diving grab of a tipped pass from Kinzer for a first down at the Port 39. However, with only 29 seconds left and no time-outs, the Knights were forced into desperate measures.
After a fumble pushed Nicolet back to its own 44, Kinzer fired a pass over the middle that was intercepted by linebacker Dylan Scharnweber at the 50.
The Pirates were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
“We had to find a way to hang on, and we did. That’s the big thing,” Bunyan said. “But we certainly have a lot of things to work on.”
Defense was one of the biggest problems for Port, which struggled with tackling. Nicolet collected 429 total yards with its option offense, including 276 yards rushing on 51 carries.
Bunyan was also concerned about breakdowns in his team’s kick coverage, most notably the failure to recover an onside kick by Nicolet midway through the second quarter. The ploy helped the Knights keep the ball for nearly 10 minutes of the period and led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Kinzer that tied the game.
“We did a really poor job on our special teams,” Bunyan said. “Letting them recover that onside kick forced our defense to stay on the field almost all of the second quarter.”
That’s not to say Port didn’t have several bright spots.
The Pirates got a team-high 105 rushing yards from Mick Clarke, including an 85-yard touchdown sprint in the first quarter.
Wojciehowski capped an eight-play, 60-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard keeper that gave Port a 14-3 lead early in the second period. Besides making a 20-yard run, Wojciehowski kept the drive alive by completing passes of 24 yards to Clarke and 10 yards to Derek Haley.
The Pirates finished with 335 yards in total offense, including 230 with a ground game that averaged eight yards per carry.
Defensively, Port forced five turnovers, including interceptions by Scharnweber and Quentin Lueck and fumble recoveries by Austin Gehrke, Sam Davel and Josh Meins.
“Nicolet has some good, skilled players,” Bunyan said. “We gave up some big plays, but we forced turnovers.
“I was also pleased that we were able to hold them to field goals on two of their drives.”
Port, which improved to 2-1 in the conference and 2-2 overall, can expect a tougher test this Friday. It will travel to Whitefish Bay for a 7 p.m. NSC game.
AFTER CATCHING a pass, Derek Haley prepared to use a stiff-arm to elude a Nicolet defender in Port Washington’s 28-21 win Friday. Photo by Sam Arendt