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If anyone thought the toughness factor was going to disappear from the Whitefish Bay football program because of the passing last year of legendary Blue Duke coach Jim Tietjen, they were mistaken.

A week or so after suffering a painful high-ankle sprain, junior quarterback Cade Garcia came back to hit 12 of 18 passes for 156 yards and three TDs as the Blue Dukes took advantage of five Nicolet turnovers to overwhelm the visiting Knights, 35-13, on Sept. 16.

"This week we brought him back slow," said coach Jake Wolter of Garcia. "Things came back negative (as far as any breaks in the ankle), so for him, it became a matter of pain tolerance. We just wanted to give him an opportunity to play a good half because we didn't want him missing two full games before Germantown (which the Blue Dukes will visit at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23)."

The win improved the youthful Blue Dukes to an impressive 3-0 in North Shore Conference play and 4-1 overall. They entered this week tied for the NSC lead with Homestead (3-0, 4-1).

Wolter is surprised and, yet, not at what the Blue Dukes, a season after graduating one of their most impressive senior classes, have been able to accomplish.

"Last year, we knew we had a lot of really good young talent backing up that big senior class," Wolter said. "They weren't at the front of things, just backing the others up. But this year, they've been able to step up, dive in and take the lead role. That junior class hasn't lost a lot of games (since coming up in youth ball)."

Bay can keep pace in the North Shore race and clinch a WIAA state playoff berth if it beats Germantown (2-1, 2-3). The Warhawks routed Grafton, 39-10, on Sept. 16. It will also be the last in a storied series of games between Bay and Germantown as the Warhawks head over to the Greater Metro Conference next fall. Bay won a thriller last season against the Warhawks as a Michael Kirkendoll interception in the end zone saved the day.

"You talk about your rivalries, and this has been a good one," Wolter said. "I think the kids are going to miss it."

Bay looked good against Nicolet. It forced three fumbles, grabbed an interception and blocked a punt in the first half. Three of those turnovers occurred in the first quarter, and almost all were turned into a Garcia pass for a touchdown. He hit Kirkendoll from 6 yards out, Zach Lichosik from 21 yards out and Maurice David Lee III for 29 yards as Bay was up 21-0 at the end of the first.

Nicolet (0-3, 1-4), which has been remarkably competitive under new coach Al Moroder, could not overcome its mistakes.

"They took advantage of almost every mistake that we made," Moroder said. "Teams can't turn the ball over like that and expect to succeed. You especially cannot do that against a program as good as Bay's."

Defensive back Case Fleck returned a short punt block for a TD in the second quarter, and then running back Bo Bassindale closed out the Bay scoring with a 2-yard TD run. It was 35-0 at the break.

"Our defense was really able to control the game," said Wolter. "I'm not sure if they got 30 yards on our first unit. The first team defense just played very well and dominated their offense."

The only misfire for the Blue Dukes in the first half was a missed field goal.

Bay then rested a great many starters in the second half. Dakari Williams ran 12 yards for a Nicolet TD in the fourth quarter, and as the game ended, Nicolet quarterback Jack Hansen hit Stefan Hinz on a 10-yard TD pass.

Hansen hit eight of 12 passes for 172 yards for the Knights with Keno Scott catching four balls for 97 yards. Williams rushed for 51 yards on 10 tries.

"We just need to learn how to win games, and a big part of that is eliminating mistakes," Moroder said.

Wolter pointed out that Garcia is not the only one who is tough on Bay. He praised veteran lineman Chris Caspari in doing a great job at H-back despite some back issues.

Alex Anthony caught three passes for 64 yards for Bay, while Kirkendoll grabbed four for 43. Bassindale ran 11 times for 63 yards.

Wolter said the success the team is having could not happen without some surprising senior contributions.

"We knew what kind of production we would get out of the likes of Michael (Kirkendoll), but people like Andy Oates (linebacker) and David Thompson (defensive back/receiver) have really upped the level of their play," Wolter said.

He said the team is ready for the stretch run ahead of it.

"We knew where we wanted to be when we got to Germantown," he said. "Now we're in position to do some great things, including a repeat of the conference title. It's definitely a goal we can reach, and the kids deserve a shot at it."

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