A big opportunity presented itself on Oct. 14, and the Port Washington football team took full advantage of it.
The Pirates needed a victory over Nicolet that night to claim their first WIAA playoff berth since 2008, and they responded with a 49-13 romp to finish the regular season 4-3 in the North Shore Conference and 5-4 overall.
They will open the Division 3 playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at Kewaskum (8-1, 6-1 in the East Central Conference).
Kewaskum is led by quarterback Dalton Poole with 1,568 yards through the air, running back Cole Suprenant with 750 yards and receiver Brady Hanson with 569 yards.
Port met Kewaskum in the second game of this season and dropped a tight 21-14 contest, rallying late from a two-touchdown deficit but falling short. Matt Ruppel ran for 122 yards in that contest, but the Pirates were hurt by penalties.
Strike early, often
The Pirates gave themselves that chance by topping Nicolet last week, and they jumped out early with touchdowns of 23 and 17 yards by Ruppel and two extra points by Caleb Tydrick on their first two drives for a 14-0 lead.
The Knights (0-7 in the North Shore) came within 14-6 by the end of the first quarter, but Port answered with four scores in the second period.
Ruppel ran for touchdowns of 4 and 7 yards; then the Pirates notched a safety, and quarterback Tanner Orten hit Devon Edwards with a 26-yard scoring pass to make it 37-6 at the half.
Orten found Jacob Lippe with a 39-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and Marcus Schmit returned a fumble for the final score.
Coach John Bunyan said his team approached the game in the right way.
"We were excited about the opportunity," he said, "but we also realized we had a football game to play. We had to execute what we wanted to do, and we were determined."
Ruppel finished with 98 yards on 13 carries (7.5 average) to move his season total to 1,049 yards.
He had plenty of help because Port had seven players with rushes in the game, led by Deron Spicer with 48 yards, Adam Baierl 34 yards and Lippe 32 yards.
Orten completed five of eight passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
"He is a senior in his second year, and he has done a good job of running the offense," the coach said.
Lippe led the receivers with three catches for 53 yards and one score.
Work paid off
Bunyan said his team did the right things to bounce back from consecutive 2-7 seasons and snare the playoff berth.
"They worked hard in the off-season and in training camp; they came together as a group, and they bought into our system," he said. "We were able to run the football well (behind all-state lineman Tyler Beach, among others), and we played great defense against the run."