Oak Creek football fans stormed the field on this wet Friday night as if the squad had won the state title while players were hugging each other and crying.
Meanwhile, Knights head coach Mike Bartholomew asked no one in particular "Now where is our trophy?" referring to the famous divided piece of hardware that his team plays for every year against archrival Franklin.
The answer to his question was that it was being hoisted by other happy members of his team as the warm steam they gave off rose against the cool, damp air to form a cloud of well-won success as the Knights went down to Franklin and beat the Sabers for the first time in four years, 24-7.
In doing so, the Knights erased a bitter memory from a year ago, where they had a 13-0 halftime lead on the Sabers only to see it evaporate in a 26-20 decision. Further, Oak Creek improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeast play, keeping some long overdue playoff and conference title hopes firmly in place.
"I think I got to touch it a little bit," laughed senior running back Virgil Hammond said of the trophy, after rushing for 116 hard-earned yards on 26 carries including a crushing 35-yard TD run down the right side with 4:27 left that gave the Knights an insurmountable 17-7 advantage.
"We needed to get momentum back," added Hammond, after the Sabers had cut a 10-0 halftime lead to 10-7. "It was a great play call (the touchdown). I owe that one all to Coach Bart (Bartholomew). A great decision."
Bartholomew made a couple of great decisions this night none more important than trusting his defense to stuff the potent, high-powered Sabers (0-1, 1-2) offense.
The Knights forced three first half turnovers. The first one, a fumble recovery by defensive lineman Ian DeChambre on the Franklin 23, led to a 25-yard field by Bianca Alarcon with 4:41 left in the first period.
Oak Creek would never trail again, though the Knights made it interesting. Prior to the field goal, a missed field goal attempt followed a drop of a certain TD pass in the end zone. Then following the field goal, the Knights drove to the Sabers' 17 only to stall on downs.
It took the second turnover to force the issue, as Oak Creek's Jordan Veloz tipped a pass by Franklin's Sean McGuiire into teammate Elijah Strong's hands.
Four plays later, Bartholomew, who tends to like to grind it out behind Hammond and junior back Derrick Stephan (16 carries for 91 yards), rolled the dice with the passing game and gave the Knights serious momentum heading into the second half.
Junior quarterback Jordan Strong dropped straight back on a fourth and seven play from the Franklin 34-yard line and lofted a perfect pass into wide open tight end Zack Harvey's hands.
Harvey was never challenged as he raced into the end zone for a 10-0 lead.
"Everybody knows that we like to pound and pound and pound (with the running game)," said Bartholomew, "but we also like to take our shots too. ...We thought we could take advantage of certain things that they did (defensively), and it paid off tonight."
His defense paid off one more time in the first half. The Sabers were mounting a late drive, when McGuire got temporarily knocked out of the game on a late hit that resulted in a leg injury.
He left the game for the remainder of the series as Knight defense back Doran Turchin came up with the the second interception of the half, picking off back-up quarterback Zach Eder's pass after Franklin had reached the Oak Creek 24.
Sabers coach Louis Brown was not pleased with the start at all.
"It was an ugly first half on our part," he said. "Three turnovers, a bunch of penalties. Those aren't excuses. Oak Creek is a good team and they forced us into some of those things."
But the Sabers' made adjustments. With Eder at the controls, they managed to drive 16 plays for 49 yards on the first possession of the second half only to stall at the Knight 22.
After the Sabers' defense forced a three and out, McGuire came back in and put Franklin in the end zone. A great throw and terrific run and catch for 43 yards to Joe Falzon got the Sabers to the two.
After a penalty, Ben Smith fought his way in from seven yards out to make it 10-7 with 10:57 left in the game.
And if Oak Creek fans were getting nervous thinking about a repeat of last seeason's fiasco, they had good reason. The Knights subsequently drove to the Franklin 33 but saw the march dissipate behind three penalties and a botched fourth down pass.
But the inspired Knight defense was not going to let another collapse happen. They forced a Franklin three and out and shortly after Strong hit end Chase Leonardi for a cluch 26-yard completion, Hammond found his way into the end zone for that game-clinching score.
Knight linebacker/end Alex Hahn said a new, tougher mentality helped the defense weather the storm.
"Our idea was to come out and pound them (along the line)," he said. "They came back and pounded us last year (in the second half) and we had to return the favor. Coach talked about it a lot at halftime. We couldn't have a let-up (in the second half). We had to continue to play hard."
They did, as following Hammond's TD, the defense forced another stop and then after Stephan broke off a 39-yard run, Strong took an option run in from three-yards out to clinch the game at the 2:10 mark.
All told, the Knight defense would force the Sabers into just nine of 23 passing.
"I liked how we came out and played hard in the second half," said Brown, "but we were just caught napping in every aspect in that first half, offense, defense and special teams. That was not a recipe for success."
"We needed one big stop, one more big play, but we have some pretty young guys up front and as we talked about, they forced a few things on us."
And no degree of force was going to take this win away from the Knights tonight.
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!
- Whitnall falls to Tech in regional
- Sports Shorts: March 6
- Co-op gymnasts aim for fourth state title
- Boys basketball: Whitnall squeaks past South Milwaukee
- Whitnall's Bell dives for third
- Whitnall's Monty reaches state wrestling tournament
- Beck medals in state diving again as Franklin tankers take 17th
- Xiong leads three state wrestling qualifiers for Franklin
- Dominance leads to league title for co-op gymnasts
- Sports Shorts: Feb. 20