The inability to turn scoring opportunities into touchdowns doomed the Whitefish Bay football team in their attempt to hand conference rival Milwaukee Lutheran its first loss on Friday night.
The Blue Dukes had four drives stall inside the 20 yard line, including a potential game-tying push, in a 33-23 Homecoming loss to the Red Knights.
Down 27-20 with less than four minutes left in the game, Bay (2-3, 1-2) opted to go for it on fourth down at the 18 yard line, and quarterback Grant Menard’s pass was broken up in the end zone.
“We’re not one of those up and down the field, heaving the ball teams,” said Bay coach Jim Tietjen. “So we’re running what we run trying to get in the end zone.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Dukes, they were playing a squad that thrives on putting the ball in the air.
Lutheran (5-0, 3-0) quarterback Jake Nelson leads the state in passing with more than 1,500 yards through the first five games of the season.
After being held in check early - 8 for 15, 109 yards in the first half - the senior scorched the Blue Dukes for almost 200 yards and two scores in the second half.
Nelson finished 18-30 for 300 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 21 for the season.
“Our offensive line really stepped it up in the second half,” he said. “Our receivers just got off the ball better and I made better reads and threw better balls.”
The decisive touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter when Nelson hit receiver Kevin Folker in stride for a 40-yard score to put Lutheran up for good 27-20.
“The bottom line is we needed one more, good stop,” Tietjen said, “and we didn’t get it.”
Still, Bay led for most of the game thanks to a stellar running attack.
While Nelson was wearing out the Bay secondary, the Blue Dukes exhausted the Red Knights' defensive line with its ground attack.
Junior running back Rashadeem Gray ran for 159 yards on 24 carries. As a team, Bay rushed for 297 yards.
But despite the impressive statistics, Bay was forced to settle for three field goals at times when touchdowns would have given the team added cushion on the scoreboard.
Leading 14-7, Colin Downing kicked a 22-yard field goal to end the first half for a 17-7 lead, and the sophomore accounted for the only scoring by Bay in the second half.
He converted kicks of 23 yards and 34 yards in the second half, the last to put Bay up 23-20 early in the fourth quarter.
“When it comes down to winning the ball game,” Tietjen said, “we were holding on, but we were gassed.”
Three first half turnovers by Lutheran aided the Blue Dukes, who capitalized with touchdowns on a 10-yard run by Gray and 15-yard scoring strike by Menard to Jackson Weber.
Lutheran tightened things up in the third quarter when Nelson scored on a quarterback sneak from one-yard out and later tied the game 20-20 with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Desmond Williams.
Running back Tyler White capped the scoring for Lutheran with a 43-yard touchdown run late in the game.
“When we don’t turn the ball over, we feel we are going to put up points,” said Lutheran coach Joe Kalkopf, “and that’s what we did.”
For Bay, it was another tough loss, but Tietjen said nobody is hanging their heads heading into a game against Port Washington.
“They’ll be fine,” he said. “We’ll come back and work just as hard and figure this stuff out and get after Port next week.”
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