What was it about 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 at midfield, a gesture that earned the official a 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 inadvertent onside kick, a blocked punt, a Franklin touchdown called back by, not one, but two penalties on a single play, and a virtual blizzard of flags.
"They call it the helmet game for a reason," said Franklin coach Louis Brown, noting the tall, twin-helmeted trophy the two teams play for each year.
Still, one Franklin captain told his counterpart after the game, "It was the best game we've ever played."
"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 weird stuff that I get a headache thinking about."
Knights get early lead
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 afterward. "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 thanks to an accidental ricochet of a kick-off that wound up back in kicker Matt Hargreaves' hands, a roughing the kicker penalty and an interception by Oak Creek's Nick Baumann.
All told, the Knights had five possessions in the first half, all of which ended up in Sabers territory, but a missed field goal, a fourth down stop and a punt were included in the mix. Oak Creek would have to settle for two Hargreaves field goals, one from 32 yards in the first quarter and another from 25 yards at the halftime whistle to make it 6-0.
"We did some good things, but we were getting field goals instead of touchdowns," Bartholomew said.
Sabers come back
That trend would come back to haunt the Knights in the second half as things changed when Sabers' linebacker August Beck roared in to block an Oak Creek 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," McGuire said. "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)," Brown said. "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," Walton said, "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 on downs. 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 more than 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 touchdown 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," Walton said. "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 incomplete tosses ended the Knights' hopes.
"I felt pretty good after that second touchdown," Brown said. "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 sure didn't help ourselves tonight."
"I'd like to think we had something to do with that," said Bartholomew shaking his head at the missed opportunities. "...I told the kids they played with the heart of a lion tonight. That they were all in."
Alternating quarterbacks Strong and Steve Stilwell finished a combined seven of 15 passing for the Knights for 135 yards, and 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, and McGuire hit 11 of 26 passes for 125 yards.
"For them to hold us to 14 points and we still get a victory says a lot about our defense, and theirs," Brown said.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a lot," McGuire said.
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 Shorts: Dec. 5
- Franklin football team powered by All-Suburban honorees
- Franklin puts up valiant effort against Arrowhead, but runs out of steam in state title game (2)
- Franklin football team receives a spirited backing at state
- Experience should make Franklin boys basketball team a contender (2)
- Whitnall girls basketball have some questions to answer (1)
- Free throws help Whitnall boys basketball clinch win
- Social media story: 2013 Division 1 prep football state title game: Franklin vs. Arrowhead (1)
- Arrowhead dispatches Franklin to defend Divison 1 state football title (2)
- Whitnall girls duo place at state diving (1)