Indians use fast start to humble rival Chargers, 24-21
Falls knocks off state's third-ranked team
Menomonee Falls - A red and white face-painted Sussex Hamilton backer boldly ran out onto the middle of Schumann Stadium in Menomonee Falls on Friday night right after the national anthem and in an impressive display of chutzpah planted a Chargers spirit flag at midfield much to the great vocal disdain of the Indians football fans in attendance.
Thus, in this long-standing and often intense rivalry, a blow for symbolism was struck.
But the Indians responded with such concrete qualities as execution, character and tenacity, as they scored two touchdowns in the first quarter against the third-ranked Hamilton squad and then hung on for dear life in one of the great upsets of the season so far with a 24-21 decision.
When Chargers quarterback Mike Gryszkiewicz's long sideline pass in the final seconds missed its mark, there was bedlam at the center of Schumann. If that Hamilton spirit flag had still been there, it would have been trampled into oblivion.
"I never felt like this before, I was so scared (going into those final plays)," Falls senior linebacker Brian Schmit said. "I thought the game would never end. We always knew we were a good football team, but we had to go out and prove it. We had to go out and prove it to everyone."
That the Indians did, as they contained one of the state's great offenses, holding it to fewer than 300 total yards (295), while all-state level running back Drew Patterson still ran for 158 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns but was never allowed to cut loose for a backbreaking score.
Meanwhile, the Indians offense was stunningly impressive (330 total yards), executing when needed and getting big plays at the most important moments as Falls improved to 3-1 in Greater Metro play and 3-2 overall while Hamilton fell to 3-1 (4-1).
"This was such a true team effort," Indians coach John Baker said. "There were so many guys out there making plays. We talked about what this game might mean last night, and the kids really bought into it. It was a great football game, and the kids just played so hard. They did absolutely everything that we asked of them.
"But I tell you, that ending, it just felt like your heart was going to jump out of your chest and the clock was never going to get to zero."
Yes it did.
Hamilton's finishing fury
After sophomore Alec Knuese hit 23-yard field goal after Hamilton fumbled a kickoff return, Falls had a 24-7 advantage with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
But the Chargers, who had scarcely been challenged in rolling to four straight impressive wins heading into this tilt, came right back, mounting an eight-play, 63-yard drive as Patterson took a pitchout and plowed in from five yards out to make it 24-14 with 10:48 to go.
After the Hamilton defense forced the first of three straight Falls three-and-outs, the Chargers got it back, only to have Indians defensive back Mike Van Alstyne pick off a Gryskiewicz pass at the Chargers 30.
But the Hamilton defense prevented Falls from scoring any precious insurance points, and then the Chargers marched 75 yards in 11 plays. Gryszkiewicz scooted in from a yard out with 2:24 left to bring the Hamilton as close as it would be all night at 24-21.
The Chargers then tried an onside kick. There was some confusion as to possession, though it clearly seemed that a Falls' player had secured it at the bottom of the pile. After an officials' conference, Falls did get the ball.
But the Indians could do nothing with it, Hamilton used all its timeouts, and Falls had to punt once again.
Hamilton had the ball at its own 17 with 1:52 to go. After two penalties set them back, a 22-yard pass to Patterson got Hamilton to its own 48, but that was as far as the Chargers would get.
The final seconds were harrowing.
Gryszkiewicz was sacked and fumbled, though Hamilton recovered, and a surprise run by Patterson fooled no one. When Gryszkiewicz's desperation heave failed to find its target, Chargers coach John Damato knew he had to go back to the drawing board.
"Falls just came off the ball very well," he said. "Their coaching staff did an excellent job and they kept us on our heels all night. They capitalized on turnovers and that's what good teams do.
"We had a good game plan, but unfortunately it didn't work out."
That's because the Indians had a better one.
Executing the game plan
They opened the game with an impressive 10-play, 63-yard drive. A touchdown run by quarterback Adam Vechart was wiped out by a holding penalty, but, no matter, as he later connected with back Cole Hernikl on a pretty 15-yard TD pass right over a defender's head.
After forcing a Hamilton punt, junior back Christian Almonte turned on the jets for a 64-yard run around the edge. Hernikl later scored on a one-yard run to give Falls a stunning 14-0 lead with 2:06 left in the first period.
"That start was everything," Schmit said. "It got us going. The offense made a few big plays and then we had to go out and make stops."
Schmit said the primary game plan was to stop Patterson, who had been running wild over every opponent in his path. The Indians did hold him back until later in the first half, when the Chargers got back into the game with a 77-yard drive, 68 of which was covered by Patterson. He eventually scored on a toss play from 10 yards out to make it 14-7.
The Indians kept the foot on the gas early in the third quarter.
Senior back Justin Johnson stepped to the fore, taking a quick Vechart out pass, breaking a tackle and racing 76 yards before getting stopped at the Hamilton five.
A play later, Hernikl (22 carries for 77 yards) took a direct snap for five yards and the score, and Falls was up 21-7 midway through the third period.
"Justin is just one of those kids who makes plays and never comes off the field," Baker said of Johnson.
Almonte finished with 108 yards rushing on 12 carries while Johnson had three catches for 93 yards and Vechart was a judicious five of seven through the air for 123 yards.
"We weren't taking anything for granted," Damato said. "I know you guys in the media love that kind of stuff, but that wasn't the case. With this rivalry you know you can throw everything out the window and Falls proved that tonight.
"They were well-prepared and they capitalized on the breaks they got. That's the sign of a good team.
"Our kids just executed so well," Baker said. "We threw a few wrinkles in and both our lines really got into it. To shut down that offense like that was just amazing.
"I can't say enough about how proud I am of these coaches and these kids."
WHO:Marquette University High School
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Hart Park, 7300 West Chestnut St., Wauwatosa
SUMMARY: After easily their biggest home win since the 2009 state playoff rout of previously unbeaten Homestead, the Indians are now tied for second with Hamilton in the GMC behind Brookfield East (4-0, 5-0). Falls' task gets no easier as the Indians host another rival in Marquette (3-1, 3-2). After a rocky 0-2 start, the Hilltoppers have won two of their last three, including the Sept. 21 40-13 rout of Wauwatosa East. In a note of comparison, Hamilton had hammered Marquette, 42-3, in the first conference game of the season. Also, if Falls wins, it clinches its first WIAA state playoff berth since 2009.
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