Any Fritsch way they can:

Port Washington qualifies for the playoffs with heart-stopping homecoming win behind breathtaking play of backup QB
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, the Port Washington High School football team will take a memorable mental keepsake into grandfatherhood from last Friday’s historical homecoming comeback.

Down 24-20 to a team tied for the East Central Conference lead with a spot in the playoffs on the line, junior backup quarterback Ben Fritsch, who had just thrown an interception, engineered a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in less than four minutes to give Port the lead with 27 seconds left.

The defense held, and Port prevailed, 27-24.

Emotions afterward matched the milestone.

“I love everything. I love my whole team. I love everybody that’s here,” wide receiver and defensive back Josh Arnold said.

“It’s just almost like everything you dream of. I’ve been waiting for years, just to pull that out in an intense game,” Peyton Anderson, who played linebacker for the first time, said.

“Oh, it’s the pinnacle, man,” coach John Bunyan said. “We haven’t beat Plymouth in a long time. Plymouth has been a great team in the conference for many years. It was super special, and just how proud I am of my guys playing with confidence tonight.”

It was an extraordinary moment for Fritsch, who had to step in as quarterback when senior and three-year starter Nate Uselding went down with a knee injury on Sept. 9 and the Pirates had to shift their offensive scheme from an air attack to ground assault to match Fritsch’s talents.

“It feels amazing, especially to go out there on senior night and on homecoming night and just compete and come out with a win. It just feels amazing,” Fritsch said.

On the final drive, Fritsch accounted for 48 yards rushing on five carries, capping it with a nine-yard touchdown led by lineman Casey Arendt, who is listed at 6 feet, 6 inches tall and 290 pounds.

“I got the ball and I ran to the left. I was following right behind big No. 69 Casey. I saw a linebacker, I’m like I’ve just got to cut right off of Casey’s butt, and sure enough, it was right there,” Fritsch said of the definitive score.

He had a highlight-reel run earlier in the drive. On first and 10 from Port’s 33-yard line, Fritsch rolled right, then cut back all the way to the left sideline, came millimeters from falling but kept his balance and picked up speed for a 24-yard gain down the left sideline.

An already anxious and excitable crowd that packed the stands — except for that middle portion comprising some of the best seats that has been deemed unstable and is taped off — knew what it just witnessed, and the players felt it.

“It was so great, the energy from the crowd compiled onto us. We were so hyped,” Arendt said.

Bunyan confirmed he hasn’t ever had a runner like Fritsch, who can start and stop, then reach top speed again in an instant and spin, slither and slide his way out of tackles. He is a deadly kickoff and punt returner, and whenever he’s in open space it’s off to the races.

“He’s elusive, he’s super athletic. He understand the game. He understands angles,” Bunyan said.

His blockers, however, don’t understand where he’s going.

“Actually not really. You just go and he’ll make it for you. He’ll read you,” wide receiver Matt Esselmann said.

“He just goes where he wants,” tight end Ryan Burmesch said.

Arendt has been blocking for Fritsch since they were in youth league with the Buccaneers.

“He’s a shifty guy so I just block and hope he finds a gap,” he said.

Bunyan is OK with that.

“We have a hole there for him to run through, but if he sees something different, he has the ability to do that,” he said.

Fritsch had 19 carries for 138 yards — he ran about 200 yards back and forth to get those — and one touchdown. He went 12-for-17 passing for 155 yards with one touchdown and the nearly game-ending interception with 5 minutes, 19 seconds to play. Andru Miller stepped in front of receiver Esselmann on an out route, picked off the pass and returned it for a touchdown.

An illegal block penalty canceled the touchdown but still gave Plymouth the ball. Port’s defense held two runs to a combined one-yard loss, and Plymouth threw incomplete on third down, forcing a punt and Port’s game-clinching heroics.

The Panthers tried to get into field goal range in the final seconds, but Mike Krueger sacked Jordan Schmitt on the second-last play, and on the final wild play he scooped up the ball after several Panther laterals.

“There was just so much built up between us in the last couple of years that this is probably one of the best games we’ve played this year,” Krueger said.

The defense held despite missing captain and leading tackler Kaiden Schumacher, who broke his ankle a few weeks ago.

“It’s a big win because of all the key players that we lost. It was a battle until the finish. Everyone stepped up in every way they could tonight,” linebacker Cael Eernisse said.

“We never beat Plymouth since joining East Central – especially after the year we’ve had with injuries, there’s no better feeling of beating a rival like that,” lineman Nick Bensen said.

The game started with disaster. Arnold fumbled the opening kickoff, and Plymouth drove to Port’s 1-yard line. But a Panther  fumbled and Bensen recovered it, dodging a bullet.

Arnold bounced back to have a huge game, scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter. One came on a blown coverage in which Arnold was so far from humanity his face could have been put on milk cartons, but Fritsch found him for a 46-yard score. The other came on a 30-yard interception return. He jumped in front of a receiver and sped down the sideline untouched.

“In my head I was like, I know the route is coming. I’m just about to jump it and see what happens. I caught it and ran a pick six,” he said.

Overcoming the early fumble is the mental toughness Bunyan wants to see from his team.

“It goes back to simply just playing with confidence. I was telling our kids. ‘You can’t get down. This is football. There’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs. There’s going to be mistakes. If you play with confidence, good things are going to happen,’” he said.

Arnold had five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Burmesch caught four balls for 34 yards. Lleyton Allen ran 19 times for 68 yards, including a six-yard score in the second quarter for the game’s first points, capping a 21-play, 98-yard drive that lasted 12 and a half minutes. Sam Pasten had a fumble recovery.

For Plymouth, Marco Troka ran 18 times for 89 yards and a score. Jake Shutter caught three balls for 49 yards. Schmit went 7-for-10 passing for 74 yards with an interception, and Alex Ames had a 33-yard touchdown pass.

Port and Plymouth both went to 4-2 in the East Central. The Pirates can still tie for the league title if they win at Berlin (5-1) on Friday and Kewaskum (5-1) loses at Sheboygan Falls (3-3).

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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