Port football team shakes off lackluster first half to rumble past Westosha for 37-29 win in home opener
You never know when a comeback is right around the corner.
Trailing by 16 points at halftime against Westosha Central last Friday night, the Port Washington football team appeared headed for a disappointing loss, one marred by shaky defense and costly miscues.ROMAN BAILEY and his fellow Port Washington backs ran through Westosha Central’s defense in a nonconference win Friday. Bailey rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Photo by Sam Arendt
But there was still one half left for redemption — an opportunity Port fully embraced while pulling out a 37-29 victory in its home opener.
Mick Clarke’s 61-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes to play capped a determined comeback by the Pirates, who scored 24 unanswered points in the second half.
“We knew we could move the ball against them, but I kept saying that what we needed were some defensive stops,” said Port coach Tim Greisch, whose team piled up 291 yards rushing.
“We made some adjustments and shuffled our lineup around until we found the right personnel. Then the kids really stepped up.”
The Pirates’ huge rally was a stark contrast to an erratic first half. Although Port played Central to a 7-7 standoff through one quarter, the second period went to the visitors.
Clinging to a 14-13 lead with 4:17 left in the half, the Falcons pulled away with two long scoring plays. Aaron Fincher, who scored Central’s first touchdown of the game on a 16-yard run, fielded a squib kickoff and sprinted 85 yards up the middle of the field for a touchdown that put his team ahead, 22-13.
After stopping Port on a fourth-down play at their own 43, the Falcons struck again. This time, quarterback Tyler Stoxen found Jason Castona open on a crossing pattern for a 56-yard scoring pass with just 29 seconds left.
“That was a big play that looked like it could have been the ball game,” Greisch said. “We were back on our heels, and they caught us out of position.”
Facing a 29-13 deficit, the Pirates appeared ready to fold. The third quarter didn’t signal any kind of a quick comeback, either, with quarterback Taylor Devenport sacked twice on Port’s first possession, which ended in a punt that Fincher returned to the Pirates’ 33.
But after Port’s defense returned the favor by stopping the Falcons on a fourth-down pass, the fun began for the home team.
Hard running by Clarke and Roman Bailey, including a 15-yard burst by Clarke, put the Pirates at midfield. On first down, Devenport found Marty Franzkowiak open on a 50-yard touchdown pass along the left sideline.
Devenport’s two-point conversion run pulled Port within 29-21.
The Falcons threatened again on their next possession, but linebacker Boomer Scheel snuffed out that chance by intercepting Stoxen’s pass at the Port 28. The Pirates responded with a seven-play, 72-yard drive sparked by Bailey.
The senior halfback broke off a 37-yard run to start the march and capped it with an 8-yard touchdown sprint. For good measure, he added a two-point conversion run that tied the game at 29-29 with 10:36 to play.
On its next possession, Central lost its top running back, Austin Feeney, to a knee injury and ended up punting the ball back to Port. Starting at their own 18, the Pirates weren’t about to be denied.
This time, Clarke provided the fireworks on the fourth play of the winning drive. The senior broke at least three tackles on a 60-yard touchdown and added a conversion run that gave Port a 37-29 lead with 5:03 left.
“We were up by six points and planned to kick the extra point. But when they got called for offsides, we were so close, we decided to go for two,” Greisch said.
“That way we knew we would still have a tie if they came back down and scored on us.”
The Falcons mustered one last threat before succumbing. Aided by late-hit penalty on the Pirates, Central drove to the Pirates’ 14 with less than one minute left.
However, when Stoxen’s fourth-and-8 pass was just out of the reach of a diving Castona in the end zone, the outcome was sealed.
“Central deserves some credit. They moved the ball and kept us off balance,” Greisch said. “But our kids made some big plays, too. They really earned this one.”
The Pirates, who rebounded from a 55-19 loss to Muskego in their season opener, finished with 378 yards in total offense.
Clarke led the assault with a game-high 181 yards rushing on just 14 carries. Bailey had 101 yards on 11 carries, and Franzkowiak added 46 yards on six attempts.
Central had 343 offensive yards, including 193 passing from Stoxen, who was 7-for-18 with one interception. Castona caught five passes for 157 yards, and Feeney rushed for 69 yards on 13 attempts.
“It was a good test for us heading into the conference,” Greisch said. “Winning a game like this was a real shot in the arm for our kids.”
The Pirates will try to keep rolling this Friday when they open their North Shore Conference schedule with a 7 p.m. home game against Milwaukee Lutheran.