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Franklin rallies to beat Oak Creek in 'Helmet Game'

Sept. 20, 2013

What was it about this particular Friday night?

Maybe it was the full moon or the fact that the Oak Creek bus failed to show up before the game, forcing the Knights players to drive to the crowded Franklin parking lot themselves?

Or maybe people should have known something was up during the national anthem, when an official raced in to prevent an American flag from tipping over off its stand at midfield, a gesture that earned the official a proper round of applause.

Or maybe it was the simple fact that it was just Oak Creek-Franklin football in all its wacky mid-season madness.

How else could you explain the Sabers crazy come-from-behind 14-6 victory? A game that included an inadverent onside kick, a blocked punt, a Franklin touchdown called back by not one but two penalties on a single play, and enough penalties, especially on the Sabers, to make the officials' arms tired from throwing so many flags?

"They call it the helmet game for a reason," said Franklin coach Louis Brown noting the tall, beautiful/ugly twin-helmeted trophy the two teams play for each year.

But with the victory on his team's side, one Franklin captain said to his Oak Creek counterparts at the post-game trophy exchange ceremony, "It was the best game we've ever played."

Hey, after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?

"A win's a win, no matter how you do it," said Sabers quarterback Sean McGuire, who was frequently flummoxed by the overachieving and ever-hustling Knights defense. "It was just a mixture of them being a very sound team and we being a little off our game.

"They just play good team defense out there. A lot of wierd stuff that I get a headache thinking about it."

Oak Creek coach Mike Bartholomew was more than happy to provide the migraine for the favored Sabers (3-0 in Southeast, 4-1 overall), as his underdog Knights (1-2, 2-3) failed to get the memo that they were supposed to lose.

"We played pretty well," he told the team afterwards. "To hold that offense to just 14 points is fantastic, but we had our chances too. We probably left about 14 to 21 points on the field."

The Knights would emerge from the first half with a 6-0 lead and a 39-19 advantage in plays run.

There was a McGuire interception by the Knights' Nick Baumann (McGuire would finish 11 of 26 for 125 yards), a roughing the kicker penalty on the Sabers on a punt and that inadverent onside kick.

Oak Creek kicker Matt Hargreaves had just hit a 32-yard field goal to give the Knights a 3-0 lead with 2:24 left in the first quarter, but then he accidently belted the kickoff right into a Franklin player on the front line. The ball ricocheted right back to Hargreaves, and Oak Creek had the ball back again.

The Knights couldn't do anything with it, but they held the Franklin defense on the field for nine more plays. It was a repeated scenario in the first half, as all five of Oak Creek's first-half drives wound end up in Franklin territory. There was a missed 40-yard field goal in one situation, a fourth down stop at the Sabers' 21 on another, a punt on still another and Hargreaves' two field goals.

He would hit a second field from 25 yards out at the halftime buzzer to make it 6-0.

"We did some good things but we were getting field goals instead of touchdowns," said Bartholomew.

That trend would come back to haunt the Knights in the second half.

Oak Creek got two more stops of the Sabers in the third quarter and were just about to pin Franklin back on its own side of the field again when Sabers linebacker August Beck roared in to block a Knights punt.

That maneuver allowed the Sabers to set up shop at the Oak Creek 41 with 2:41 left in the third quarter.

 "August is the real deal," said McGuire. "We've grown so close to him this last year, and he just works his tail off."

"It's not often you see a combination linebacker/state placewinning diver (for the swim team)," said Brown. "It's fortunate that we have him on the team and that we're able to use his unique talents."

In seven plays, the Sabers were finally in the lead, as on the first play of the fourth quarter, senior running back Chad Walton churned his way into the end zone from four yards out to make it 7-6.

Walton missed the Oak Creek game last season with a broken ankle and was happy to contribute his 80 yards rushing on 18 carries and three catches for 42 yards.

"We had to step up and help the defense," said Walton, "because we weren't having a very good day offensively."

A series later, the Sabers had a chance to really put the Knights in the hole, when Oak Creek quarterback Jordan Strong was stripped of the ball and Franklin recovered on the Knights' 22.

But Oak Creek held, forcing a short run and three straight incompletions. It was another case, as Brown pointed out, "of us self-imploding".

Unfortunately, the Knights couldn't press ahead and take the lead. They turned the ball back over on a punt at the Franklin 20.

Then the Sabers embarked on one of the strangest drives anyone would ever see. It would gobble up 13 plays and take well over five minutes off the clock. It featured four Franklin penalties, including two on one play to wipe out a touchdown pass.

It would also feature McGuire missing a wide open Robbie Bell at the goal-line on a sure TD pass. But right after that miss, Walton finally finished things when he started out a run up the middle, bounced it to the left and didn't stop until 24 yards later when he had scored the clinching TD with 2:08 remaining.

"This was just a night where we had too many mental mistakes," said Walton. "But on that play, I got a good block from a receiver and I was able to take it home."

Oak Creek got to its 46 in the remaining time but two incompletions ended the Knights' hopes.

"I felt pretty good after that second touchdown," said Brown. "But I knew they could tie with a touchdown and a two-point conversion, so I really didn't start breathing until after we got that fourth down stop.

"And give old coach Bart (Bartholomew) credit. He had his guys ready to play. We have some work to do (finishing drives) and we sure didn't help outselves a lot tonight."

"I'd like to think we had something to do with that," said Bartholomew shaking his head at the missed opportunites. "...I told the kids they played with the heart of a lion tonight. That they were all in."

Alternating quarterbacks Jordan Strong and Steve Stilwell finished a combined seven of 15 passing for the Knights for 135 yards, and big tight end Mario Arbanella had three catches for 89 yards. Jamie Smith rushed for 57 yards on nine tries for Oak Creek while Derrick Stephan had 53 yards on 16 tries.

Nick Plath had four catches for 57 yards for Franklin.

"For them to hold us to 14 points and we still get a victory says a lot about our defense, and theirs," said Brown.

"We shot ourselves in the foot a lot," said McGuire. "But like I said, a win is a win."

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