Fritsch fuels Port in second win over Grafton

Junior quarterback ran, passed and returned a kick for a touchdown as Pirates move on in the playoffs

GRAFTON RUNNING BACK Tommy Lutz moved the pile as (from left) Port Washington’s Peyton Anderson, Sam Pasten and Ryan Burmesch worked to stop his progress. Clay Wiziarde (77) tried to pull the group forward during Port’s 24-14 home playoff victory. Photo by Mitch Maersch


Ozaukee Press staff

These weren’t the same two rivals that faced off in Week 2 of the high school football season, but Port Washington’s Ben Fritsch assured the result didn’t change.

The junior backup quarterback who started the last seven games ran 28 times for 177 yards and one touchdown, went 7-for-11 passing for 101 yards and a touchdown and returned a kick 80 yards for touchdown. He also lost a fumble and made an interception.

That added up to a 24-14 win over Grafton. No. 2-seeded Port advanced to Level 3 of the Division 3 playoffs while No. 3-seeded Grafton’s season ended.

“It feels amazing. Just to come out here, win on our own home turf this time. No other feeling,” Fritsch said of beating the Black Hawks for a second time this season.

For Grafton, it was heartbreak as players hugged their family members and fans through tears for minutes on end.

“Our seniors are fantastic people. Excellent football players,” Grafton coach Jim Norris said. “They fought to the very end. I’m very proud of their efforts, but we ultimately came up short.”

Port coach John Bunyan was ecstatic with the victory in front of a colossal crowd and an electric atmosphere.

“I’m just super excited for high school football in this environment. This is what high school football should be about, when you play a crosstown rival and you play hard,” he said, “and you lay it all on the line here and you do it in front of a great crowd and people are respectful and appreciate the kids working their tails off. It’s great stuff.”

Fritsch had a 59-yard touchdown run in Port’s 22-21 win at Grafton on Aug. 26, but he wasn’t the starting quarterback then. He took over after three-year starter Nate Uselding injured his knee on Sept. 9 and has been an elusive, explosive runner ever since. His passing has improved, and he remains a deadly kickoff and punt returner.

Port needed all his skills last Friday.

After the Hawks missed their second field goal of the game with five and a half minutes to play and Port clinging to a 17-14 lead, the Pirates proceeded to try to run out the clock. Fritsch ran twice for a first down, and the Hawks called a timeout with 4:03 left.

Fritsch followed with a six-yard pass to Logan Niemeyer, two six yard runs and a one-yard gain as the Hawks called the remainder of their timeouts.

On first and 10 from Grafton’s 47-yard line, Fritsch burst up the middle and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.

“The line did an amazing job. They opened it up and there was a straight line to the end zone. They did an amazing job tonight,” Fritsch said.

Port held a 10-point lead with 2:16 left.

The Hawks quickly got its offense going, taking advantage of a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that set them up at midfield. Brady Hilgart promptly hit Mason Lempke for 32 yards, and Lempke got out of bounds with 2:03 left.

From Port’s 18-yard line, Hilgart tried a pass to the end zone, but Port defensive back Matt Esselmann caught the ball in stride.

Fritsch took two kneel downs and the game was over.

“This is huge. There was so much built up from last game on how we squeaked by. We took it to Grafton and this is no fluke,” Port middle linebacker Brady Krueger, who had a game-high 20 tackles, said.

Grafton inside linebacker Ben Birch said, “We didn’t execute the way we wanted to. Our corrections didn’t work.”

Grafton outgained Port, 360 yards to 301. Wide receiver Jaeden Tiegs had 92 yards rushing on three jet sweeps. Tommy Lutz ran for 80 yards on 12 carries, and Chase Norton had 49 yards and two scores on 12 carries.

Hilgart went 10-for-15 passing for 83 yards and two interceptions. Senior Vince Cameranesi was 1-for-2 passing for 11 yards, and he ran four times for 21 yards.

The classic playoff contest, much like in the first meeting between the teams, was tight throughout.

Grafton moved 65 yards to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter behind the running of Norton, Lutz and Hilgart. Norton, the Woodland Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season who was sidelined by a dislocated elbow much of this year, finished the drive on a one-yard run.

The Pirates answered on the ensuing possession, going 63 yards in 10 plays. Fritsch faked a handoff to the right, drifted left and zinged a pass to Josh Arnold in the back of the left side of the end zone, who snagged the ball out of the air just over the outstretched hands of a Hawks’ defender.

“Right over his head. Good throw by Ben,” Arnold said.

“He made an amazing catch. I just had to throw up the ball, give him a chance to go get it, and sure enough, he came down with it,” Fritsch said.

Grafton tried to answer, but Jackson Schultz missed a 23-yard field goal wide left with 6:36 to play in the second quarter.

Port began moving again, but the Pirates faced third and 14 from their own 41-yard line. That’s when Fritsch worked some magic that no opponent has been able to stop this season.

Fritsch faked a handoff, rolled right and couldn’t find anyone. The Hawks’ defense closed in, and it seemed inevitable that Port’s quarterback would be sacked.

But Fritsch, who said he patterns his play after Baltimore Raven’s quarterback Lamar Jackson, shed one tackle, tiptoed down the right sideline, cut inside and juked a couple of more defenders before gaining 15 yards.

The drive later stalled when Lempke forced Fritsch to fumble, and linebacker Dalton Reindl jumped on it on the Hawks’ 22-yard line like it was his favorite Halloween candy.

With 2:33 left in the half, the Hawks got moving and drove to Port’s 13-yard line. On the last play of the second quarter, Fritsch intercepted a low pass at the goal line to end the threat and the half.

On the first drive of the third quarter, Grafton finally got to Fritsch for a 14-yard loss on third and 12. Toby Luedtke finished the tackle as Fritsch looked for space.

After a punt, the Hawks started at Port’s 47-yard line and the battering rams of Norton and Lutz pounded eight running plays to the end zone. Norton finished the drive from three yards out, and Grafton had a 14-7 lead with 6:45 left in the third quarter.

It didn’t last long.

Fritsch fielded the kickoff from the right hash marks and angled his way left. One quick cut made one Hawk miss, and then it was off to the races down the left sideline. Fritsch made one cutback at the 15-yard line on his way to the end zone.

“Coach said we’re going to go return left, and we went return left, and the blocks were set up perfectly for me,” he said.

After forcing a punt, Port embarked on a 12-play, 85-yard drive that ended at Grafton’s 7-yard line. Esselmann drilled a 24-yard field goal to give Port the lead.

Grafton tried to answer, moving 49 yards in six plays, keyed by a 36-yard blast around the end by Tiegs. The drive stopped at the 11, and on fourth and eight Heinle missed another field goal.

Port’s ensuing drive ended with Fritsch’s touchdown run.

“He’s been making plays for the last seven games,” Bumyan said of Fritsch. “He made plays when we played them in Week 2. He’s a special player.”

Bunyan also praised the Pirates’ effort on the other side of the ball.

“I’m really proud of our defense for holding them to 14 points. That was a big thing against that running attack. They ran the ball really well against us the first time,” he said.

For Grafton, three missed opportunities inside Port’s 20-yard line hurt.

“Chase and Tommy did a good job. I would have liked to have capitalized a couple of times in the red zone,” Norris said.

“We didn’t come out to play fully. The (other) team just wanted it more in the end,” Norton said. “We had a couple of plays we gave up. Football games come down to three to five plays, and that’s what it game down to.”

Irtaza Manzoor led the Hawks with nine tackles. Garrett Bonk had seven, Josh Lee-O’Bryant had six, and Birch, Nathan Krause and Jackson Heinle each had five.

Behind Krueger’s 20, Port’s Garrett Kawczynski had 10 tackles, Anthony Backhaus had nine, Cael Eernisse and Sam Pasten each had seven and Esselmann had six.

The Hawks finished the year 9-2, with both losses to Port. They went 7-0 in the Woodland Conference, winning their first solo league title since Grafton won the Braveland Conference crown in 1984.

The history-making season is a feather in the Hawks’ cap, but that wasn’t much consolation after last Friday’s game.

“It will take a while to be able to look back and feel that. Everything is still pretty fresh,” Norris said on Monday. “It’s a business of what you’re doing now. Not what you’ve done.”

Grafton returns to Al Urness Field for a nonconference game next season.

“It’s already on the countdown board,” Norris said. “We’ll be back. We’ve got an extremely bright future.”

Port moved to 9-2 on the season and on Friday hosts No. 4-seeded New Berlin West (9-2), which outscored No. 1 seeded Martin Luther, 14-6, in the fourth quarter and scored a 20-19 upset.

The Vikings, who finished third in the Parkland Conference at 5-2, come in with a run-heavy offense that has racked up more than 3,300 yards on the ground. They’ve only thrown for 285.

Attendance: Longtime Port Washington football public address announcer Jeff Morgan told the crowd that 1,692 filled the stands last Friday night.

Athletic Director Nate Hinze said the homecoming game had been the best-attended game of the season. That drew 805 spectators. The Oct. 14 playoff win over New Berlin Eisenhower drew 791.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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