The Nicolet football team handicapped itself Friday night, to the tune of five turnovers and 10 penalties totaling 90 yards, yet still had a shot to force overtime in the final moments of its North Shore Conference battle with Port Washington at Al Urness Field.
When all was said and done, those miscues proved just too much to overcome as the Pirates earned the 28-21 victory.
“Mistakes really hurt us,” Nicolet coach David Quam said. “We’ve got to learn from this, just like I told the team.
“Last week we got a lesson on how to win, and this week we get a lesson on how to handle a loss.”
Down 28-21, the Knights (1-2 North Shore, 2-2 overall) took possession on their own 18 yard-line with 3 minutes, 3 seconds to play.
The drive was a microcosm of the evening for Nicolet, which overcame a block in a back penalty and faced a third-and-39 and fourth-and-25 only to get a first down on a tipped pass that was caught by senior wide receiver Tyler Crass. Crass minutes earlier had a 58-yard touchdown catch and run and had 110 yards receiving on four grabs.
Just two plays after that improbable play, the turnover bug bit, and an interception sealed the Knights’ fate.
“I have to take some blame for that last play,” Quam said of a quick-snap play that led to an interception in the middle of the field. “Maybe I should have called another play.
“We tried to run a little trick play. We couldn’t pull the miracle play two weeks in a row.”
The game was tied at halftime and the Knights controlled the ball and the clock in the third quarter but came up empty on a 16-play drive that ate up 6:26.
The defense held Port (2-1, 2-2) on its ensuing possession, but a fumble led to a short field and junior quarterback Aidan Wojchiehowski delivered a perfect strike to 6-foot-4 junior Darius Will for a 37-yard touchdown to go up 20-14.
“Darius is a big, tall kid that can jump and he went up and got it,” Port Washington coach John Bunyan said. “It was a great score and well-needed for us, at the time.”
The Pirates made it a two-score game on their second big run of the night when junior running back Marty Franzkowiak had a 68-yard touchdown scamper.
Back in the first quarter, senior running back Mick Clarke had an 85-yard which opened the scoring.
Trailing 14-3 less than two minutes into the second quarter, the Knights did get their offense clicking, scoring on consecutive 10-plus play drives connected by an onside kick recovery that ate up 9:42 of the first-half clock.
“They were running a ton of counters and weak-side plays and the option really hurt us, too,” Bunyan said of how the Knights offense had success against his defense. “They had been running a ton of sweeps, so that caught us off guard.”
The offense was not a point of contention for Quam, as the Knights ran the ball consistently, totaling 311 yards on the night, led by senior Tre Jenkins’ 118 yards on 17 carries.
“It was one of those games where in some ways we outplayed them,” Quam said. “We ran the ball well and moved the ball.”
It was those positives Quam wanted his team to take into the rest of the season as it continues to improve.
“It was a tough situation, but we battled and got the ball down the field and had a shot. I’m proud of the guys,” Quam said.
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