They've been playing this contest, called "The Helmet Game," between the Franklin and Oak Creek football teams for 48 years now.
But even old-timers would be hard-pressed to remember one as exciting or one with as many switches of second-half momentum as the one that transpired Friday night at Oak Creek, when Knights quarterback Nick Marks' fourth down pass to Virgil Hammond came up eight yards short of the end zone as time expired and the Sabers had escaped with a 26-20 win.
It was a victory in which the Sabers had overcome a 13-0 halftime deficit, including three first-half interceptions by sophomore quarterback Sean McGuire, and it was a victory in which Franklin finally ended a six quarter scoreless streak by exploding for all their points in the final 24 minutes.
"It was very gratifying," said Franklin head coach Louis Brown in his first go-round as head man for the Sabers in this annual battle of border rivals. "A great win. I was proud of all the kids, but I didn't have a great feeling before the game.
"I wasn't sure if they understood its importance."
The Sabers hugged the ancient trophy (with half an Oak Creek helmet and half a Franklin helmet at its peak) like it was their first-born as they gathered for photos at the Knights' Community Stadium.
It was as one happy Sabers' player called out from the post-game huddle "Franklin never quits" as the visitors improved to 1-1 in Southeast play and 3-1 overall while their hosts fell to 1-1 and 2-2, respectively.
"Coach Brown got into us a little bit at halftime," said Franklin senior linebacker Alonzo Dentici, who was in the Knights' backfield for much of the second half. "He told us to play as a family. Play with one heart as Franklin Sabers."
After Oak Creek had taken its last lead of the night at 20-13 on Virgil Hammond's 24-yard, fourth-down burst late in the third quarter, the Sabers fought back again.
McGuire, who had had a nightmarish first half, going six of 13 with three interceptions, hit Shaun Quirk on a deep post pass. Quirk shook off one tackler and was off to the races for 64 yards and the tieing TD at the 7:12 mark.
McGuire would finish the second half seven of 10 for 202 yards with two TDs, including a quick out that Chad Walton turned into a 67-yard score that tied the game at 13-13 early in the third quarter. Earlier in the period, Ben Miller went 13 yards for a score.
The Knights faced fourth and a yard at midfield, but Oak Creek back Lincoln Wylie, who grounded out 116 yards rushing on 21 carries, was stoned by a host of Sabers' tacklers in his attempt to go over the left side for the first down.
"We had the ball and an opportunity to go ahead for good, maybe," said Oak Creek coach Mike Bartholomew. "The inability to finish there was crucial."
On the next series, the Sabers drove 55 yards in five plays for the go-ahead score. Not surprisingly, it was the pass that set up the run for the Franklin offense, as back Miller stumbled at first on a draw play, but then found a gaping hole and kept his footing for 25 yards and the end zone with just 3:01 remaining.
Miller would finish with 68 yards on nine carries as the Sabers took their first and only lead of the night.
That set the stage for the final dramatics as Oak Creek took over on its 38 with 2:53 remaining and two timeouts. Quarterback Nick Marks, who had a fine game (11 of 17 passing for 119 yards and an interception), carried the ball three times for 22 yards and got the Knights to the Franklin 21 with just under a minute to go.
A keeper by Marks fooled no one and then the Knights were called for a motion penalty, and a screen pass was incomplete with 10 seconds to go, leaving the Knights with two chances at the end zone. Another motion penalty pushed Oak Creek back, and then the Franklin defense put Marks under huge pressure, and he was called for intentional grounding.
Oak Creek then had its best chance to score when Marks put a well-placed ball towards the front-corner of the end zone on third down, but Sabers' defensive back Colin Buck knocked it away from the Knights' Rey Overland at the last second.
"He (Marks) couldn't have thrown that ball any better," said Bartholomew. "I thought that was it."
That left only five seconds to go as the Knights were still 26 yards away. Marks felt heat again from defensive lineman/kicker Joe Falzon. He got the pass to Hammond but the Sabers converged on him well short of the end zone as time ran out.
"It was great to be out there on that last drive," said Dentici. "We were one team right there."
The Knights were looking to erase recent history in which the Sabers had dominated the series, including a shellacking last season.
Defensive lineman Alex Hahn's interception set up Marks' one-yard TD run to give the Knights the lead in the first quarter. In the second, a 16-play, 95-yard drive finished with Hammond's 1-yard score.
Brown knew a special game when he saw one.
"I really didn't lay into them that much at halftime," he said. "I just called out a few of the seniors and I talked to them about this being their last game with Oak Creek and what it means.
"And as far as Sean (McGuire) was concerned, I let the offensive coaches talk to him and try to settle him down. Not put any additional pressure on him. We have to remember that he's just a sophomore. He's got the physical tools, it's just the mental part of his game that we have to work on yet."
"But a lot of that came because it was the Oak Creek game and the fact that that was one of the best defenses we'll see all year."
For Bartholomew, that was small consolation.
"I just told the kids I was so proud to be their coach tonight," he said. "They laid their hearts on the line. That's all we could have asked of them."
Which was a fitting epilogue for this particular chapter in this intense 48-year old rivalry.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Sports Notes: Nov. 26, 2015
- Franklin girls basketball team has talent, looks for depth
- Greendale, Whitnall football teams earn Woodland Conference division championships
- Lessons learned: Franklin ready for Arrowhead
- Franklin football team passes major test
- Sharing success: Franklin relays head to state swimming meet
- Sport Shorts: Nov. 12, 2015
- Football: Franklin football team makes statement with rout of Muskego, 42-15
- Sport Shorts: Nov. 5, 2015
- Franklin football team gets pushed but prevails, 34-12