Whitefish Bay football players Cal Ehrke and Jack Beck like to joke about how hard Blue Duke coach Jim Tietjen works them, especially on conditioning, especially given the fact that the depth-thin squad has many players going two ways.
But that tendency bore serious and productive fruit Thursday night, as Bay used its conditioning and strength to wear down host Germantown in a defensive-minded 13-3 decision that improved the Blue Dukes to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in North Shore play.
"Yeah, we're breathing hard all the time at practice," chuckled Ehrke the quarterback, who completed eight of 15 passes for 82 yards, including four that went for first downs. "I think we're the best conditioned team in the North Shore."
Germantown coach Phil Datka wouldn't doubt that point as the Blue Dukes ran off 38 second half plays to his squad's mere 22, grinding out 11 first downs to his team's three in the process.
"We didn't take advantage of opportunities that we had in the first half and then they just wore us down," he said. "They've got a potent and patient offense and we had to move the ball better than we did against them."
The Blue Dukes started believing more in the ground game after the Warhawks outgained them 147-91 in the first half, a session that saw Germantown drive to the Bay 11, 8 and 14-yard lines in successive second quarter marches.
But the Bay defense turned their hosts away everytime.
The Blue Dukes forced the Warhawks out on downs on the first drive, then after the Blue Dukes cobbled together an impressive 74-yard drive of their own, David French gave them the lead for good with a 33-yard field goal at the 8:07 mark of the second quarter.
The Warhawks kept pushing, however, as a 13-play, 59-yard drive was foiled at the last minute by an interception from Blue Duke linebacker Jeff Cebe. And then right before the half, a seven-play, 40-yard Warhawk incursion was stopped by a critical quarterback sack which helped make the field goal attempt from Germantown's Tyler Asen came up just short.
Bay then made a real commitment to the ground in the second half. The Blue Dukes first drive of the third quarter came up two yards short of the first down as Germantown stopped them on downs on the Warhawk 14.
But on their next possession, the larger Blue Dukes started pushing the quicker Warhawks around, rushing on seven of nine plays on a 57-yard drive as the state placewinning track star Davontae Johnson found the right edge and raced in from 22-yards out for the game's only TD at the 11:35 mark of the fourth quarter.
Ehrke, who completed a key 10-yard third down pass to Zach Hessel for a big first down on the march, said the effort was a turning point.
"Going up a team like Germantown, which is traditionally very tough defensively, it was nice to move the ball like that," he said.
The Warhawks did react with some urgency, however, going 57 yards in nine plays themselves as quarterback Dylan Krivoshein hit end Louis Tuszynski on a beautiful 37-yard pass to set up Asen's 30-yard field goal that made it 10-3 with 8:58 left.
But Bay was nonplussed, as the Blue Dukes' big front wall, faced with the challenge of protecting a one-score lead in the fourth quarter, was the key to a 13-play, 70-yard march that chewed up more than six minutes and ended with a perfect game-clinching 30-yard field goal from French with just 2:44 to go.
The Blue Dukes passed only twice on that series, as Ehrke hit Mike Leckie for six and a first down and later converted a third and 10 with a 14-yard strike to Hessel. Deontaye Brown (17 carries for 78 yards) later put Bay in good field goal position at the 12 with a 20-yard burst up the gut.
"We like that challenge," said Beck, a two-way lineman. "For us, it's just going out there and having fun. We went into the game knowing that we had a size advantage so we wanted to be able to jam it down their throats." Julian Posey would add 53 yards on eight carries and Johnson 46 yards on nine carries for Bay.
Bay then forced Germantown into a four downs and out to seal the game.
"This was a bit discouraging," said Datka, whose two quarterbacks, Josh Mongan and Krivoshein, put the ball up 29 times with 15 completitions and 174 yards. "We didn't catch the ball at key times and we made poor decisions at others. We've got to make the catch and make the plays. Somebody needed to step up."
One of Germantown's first half drives that faltered featured a slant pass that would have gone for a certain touchdown, only to be dropped.
Meanwhile, Bay's confidence continues to grow.
"Going 2-0 in conference is just huge," said Tietjen, whose team has now recorded three straight wins over the Warhawks. "They're a nice program and do things the right way, but we really came up with some huge plays when we needed them tonight."
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