To say the Whitefish Bay football team has been on a roller-coaster ride the last few games is like saying road construction in the Milwaukee area has been problematic.
It just doesn't begin to cover it.
But the topsy-turvy, 42-40 victory the Blue Dukes earned over Grafton on Oct. 14 to close their regular season did have its benefits.
It improved their overall record to 6-3 and put them in second place alone in the North Shore Conference at 5-2. That distinction helped the Blue Dukes earn the second seed in the WIAA D2 state playoff southeast bracket.
Coach Jake Wolter knows the high-powered junior class that drives his team has scarcely lost a game since they started playing as kids. He and his staff have worked hard to make sure they understand perspective and that the glass is more than half-full for the Blue Dukes.
"Something we've addressed with them the last few weeks is to make them realize that not everything is going to be perfect," he said. "We're trying to break through the wall that not everything is going to be easy for them and that they have to dig deep inside themselves to find a way to get things done."
They have an opportunity to do a lot of good things in the playoffs. They will host seventh-seeded South Milwaukee in a WIAA Level 1 playoff game at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21. If they win that game, they will host the winner of third-seeded Greenfield and Milwaukee Bay View on Oct. 28.
North Shore Conference champion and defending D2 state champ Homestead is the top seed in this bracket, and if the Blue Dukes win their first two games, they will likely visit the Highlanders in a Level 3 contest on Nov. 4. Bay fell to Homestead on Oct. 7 in a tussle for the North Shore title.
Wolter said how far the Blue Dukes go depends a lot on what goes on between the ears of the Bay players.
"We get some confidence, it can go a long ways," he said.
Bay had confidence in abundance in the first half against Grafton, as the Blue Dukes scored 28 points in the second period for a 28-13 lead at the break. Touchdowns went to Patrick Nau on a 2-yard run, Bo Bassindale on an 18-yard run, Nau on a 1-yard burst and on a 7-yard Cade Garcia-to-Bassindale pass.
But as has been the case for Bay often this season, what looked easy early turned out to be difficult late. Despite a 10-yard Garcia-to-Kirkendoll TD pass, the Blackhawks still closed the gap to 35-27 at the end of the third quarter. An early turning point in the quarter, noted Wolter, was Grafton stopping Bay on a fourth and one with the score still 28-13 and then turning around and scoring.
"Things got a little sloppy after that," he said.
Grafton scored again early in the third to make it 35-33, as the Blue Dukes stopped the conversion run to maintain the lead.
Bassindale provided Bay with a little breathing room as he hit the edge for 69 yards and a TD with 10 minutes left to make it 42-33. Bassindale had a career night with 171 yards on 17 carries.
"He was really following his blocks well," Wolter said. "He's not a huge kid, but he has a huge heart."
A minute later, though, Grafton made the Dukes uneasy again with another score to make it 42-40.
Bay then helped itself by holding onto the ball for close to five minutes before turning it over on downs.
Shortly thereafter, Kirkendoll made an interception that allowed Bay to run the clock down to just a few seconds.
Garcia had an up-and-down evening, hitting 16 of 23 passes for 219 yards with two TDs, but he also had three interceptions.
Alex Anthony had six catches for 81 yards and Kirkendoll five catches for 89 yards.
"We had a real good week of practice," Wolter said. "It was a little lackluster at the start, but we had our moments."