One of the first goals for the Grafton High School football team this season was building confidence, especially in its new triple-option offensive scheme.
With that step taken, the Black Hawks have to work on starting stronger in games.
The latest case in point came last Friday when Grafton fell behind, 17-0, and couldnâ€™t recover in a 31-14 homecoming loss to Nicolet.
â€śWe got off to a slow start again, and it hurt us,â€ť Grafton coach Ben Chossek said.
â€śNicolet took it to us a little bit physically early in the game, and we didnâ€™t really respond, which was disappointing. We started to get that going in the second quarter,
but by then we had to climb out of another hole.â€ť
The Hawks, who matched their season-high scoring output with a pair of fourth-period touchdowns, had a good shot at their first win against a foe that like them
started the night 0-3 in the North Shore Conference.
However, Nicolet jumped ahead to stay with two short scoring drives in the opening quarter and never trailed.
The Knights capped a four-play, 43-yard march with a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Kappel to Bryce Bowen with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left.
Bowen snagged the ball off a deflection and raced into the end zone.
A short time later, the lead grew to 14-0 on a 5-yard scoring run by Treland Jenkins.
Graftonâ€™s defense stiffened in the second period, but Nicolet padded its lead with 4:09 left when Kappel kicked a 21-yard field goal.
Compounding the Hawksâ€™ frustrations was having a touchdown called back that could have pulled them within 17-7 late in the second quarter.
After a scoreless third period, Grafton got on the board midway through the final quarter. Quarterback Matt Weisflog directed a nine-play, 77-yard drive that
culminated in a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Beau Benzschawel and pulled Grafton within 17-7 with 5:40 left.
Nicolet answered with a 48-yard scoring run by Jenkins to make it 24-7.
On the Hawksâ€™ next possession, they rolled 80 yards in seven plays, with Weisflog tossing a 14-yard touchdown strike to Benzschawel. The score pulled Grafton
within reach at 24-14 with 3:55 left.
However, the Knights sealed the outcome with a 16-yard touchdown run by Kappel two minutes later.
â€śWe knew from film that Nicolet was a good team, but we also knew that we could stay with them,â€ť Chossek said.
â€śWe just needed to get off to a better start and get a few more stops at crucial times.â€ť
Weisflog, a sophomore, had one of his best games of the season. He led Grafton in rushing with 66 yards on 18 carries, including a 38-yard keeper, and completed
10 of 25 passes for 131 yards.
Benzschawel, a 6-foot-6-inch sophomore, was Weisflogâ€™s chief target. He finished with six catches for 62 yards.
Although he was disappointed with the loss, which dropped the Hawks to 0-6 overall, Chossek praised his young teamâ€™s comeback.
â€śOur players continue to fight and compete,â€ť he said. â€śTheyâ€™ve got a great grasp of what weâ€™re trying to do.
â€śItâ€™s just a matter of getting off to a better start so that weâ€™re not always playing from behind. Itâ€™s difficult when youâ€™re always chasing everybody.â€ť
This Friday, Grafton will continue North Shore play with a 7 p.m. game at Whitefish Bay (3-3 overall, 2-2 conference).