Over the course of this season, the Port Washington football team has played some games in which the momentum, and the lead, have changed hands several times.
The Pirates were determined that their game against Grafton on Sept. 30 would follow a different script, and they made sure of that by scoring on their first four possessions, then returning a fumble for another touchdown to build a 35-7 lead.
They then coasted to a 42-21 triumph which boosted their record to 3-2 in the North Shore Conference (4-3 overall) and moved them within one game of securing a WIAA playoff berth.
"We came in thinking that we were going to hit them early," said quarterback Tanner Orten, who passed for 67 yards and ran for 94 more in the first half. "We're not going to play the back-and-forth thing, like we have in the past. We were just going to hit them in the mouth and keep the momentum going."
Port scores early
Port traveled 60 yards on its opening possession, with Orten hitting Sam Lerche for 27 yards and Jacob Lippe for 15 to set up Matt Ruppel's 9-yard scoring burst to the left side. The extra point by Caleb Tydrick was good and Port was up 7-0 with 7 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first quarter.
Grafton then gave the Pirates a big break by fumbling the ensuing kickoff, with Port's Michael Murphy recovering at the Black Hawks' 24.
"That's what it's been," Grafton coach Shaun Behrend said. "We make too many mistakes early."
After a sack forced a fourth-down-and-18 from the Grafton 32, Orten scrambled 22 yards to the 10. He then scored three plays later, making a perfect fake to Ruppel and going around his left side for a 9-yard touchdown.
Port coach John Bunyan said Orten's running was an integral part of the offense.
"We have had a lot of success on some of our read-option stuff with him," the coach said, "and he's done a really good job."
The Hawks came back with a 73-yard scoring drive on which quarterback Hayden Proefrock hit a screen pass to Caden Knauer for 41 yards and found Jack Birch on another screen for a 23-yard touchdown. The point from Jack Orlowski trimmed it to 14-7.
Port scored again on its next chance with a 24-yard run by Deron Spicer, and it was 21-7 early in the second period.
After a Grafton punt, the Pirates went 68 yards in four plays, capped by a 38-yard run by Lippe on a reverse to the right side.
Grafton then committed another crucial mistake, with a fumble on a backward pass being scooped up by Ruppel for a 26-yard touchdown. The kick boosted the lead to 35-7.
The Hawks threatened in the final minutes of the half, marching to the Port 15, but a pass went just off a receiver's fingertips in the end zone.
"It was a lot of fun," Bunyan said of the first half. "We were able to run the football. They did a lot of blitzing up front and we were able to run some stuff to the outside, read-option and some other things. Our run game was good."
Ruppel, Port's star running back, had only 35 yards in the first half, but he carried three times for 66 yards on the opening series of the second half, scoring on a 35-yard burst to his left, with the Pirates going up 42-7. That gave him 101 yards and ended his rushing efforts for the evening.
Knauer tallies twice
Grafton pushed across two scores in the fourth quarter. From the Port 34, Proefrock fumbled a snap, recovered the ball, scrambled and found Evan Agnew on the right sideline for a 33-yard gain to the 1-yard line; then, Knauer plowed over for the score.
Later, Knauer scored his second touchdown on a 25-yard run with two minutes remaining.
"We fought our tails off every single play," said Behrend, whose team fell to 1-4 in the NSC and 1-6 overall. "I'm proud of the effort. We just have such a far way to go from a fundamentals standpoint, but we're getting better."
Port next plays at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 at Germantown, and a victory would give the Pirates a playoff berth. Grafton welcomes Cedarburg at 7 p.m. the same day.