'It would have been a phenomenal story."
That's all Menomonee Falls football coach John Baker could say shortly after he and his team watched on television Brookfield East's harrowing 14-13 overtime win over Sussex Hamilton late Friday night.
The Indians had taken care of business earlier that night, turning in a dominant defensive effort in handling a short-handed Brookfield Central squad, 14-0.
Falls (6-1 in Greater Metro Conference play and 6-2 overall) needed to beat the Lancers (4-3, 5-3) and then needed help from Hamilton. A victory by the Chargers (5-2, 6-2) over East (7-0, 8-0) would have vaulted the Indians into a three-way tie for the GMC title with those same two teams.
It would have been Falls' first league championship since 2004.
"What can you say, that was a great game between two great teams," Baker said of the East-Hamilton game. "I'm still very proud of what we accomplished. We controlled what we could control."
"We were just hoping it would go our way."
The East-Hamilton game was 7-7 at the end of regulation. East got the ball first, scored a touchdown and kicked the extra point to make it 14-7. The Chargers got the ball, scored a TD, and in a great display of guts decided to go for two and the win.
But the Spartan defense then stuffed likely all-state running back Drew Patterson to preserve their undisputed title.
With the GMC title just out of their reach, the Indians settled for second place, their best finish since the runner-up slot they held in the WIAA state runner-up year of 2009.
They will find out what eight-team grouping they will be for the WIAA state playoffs later this evening and pairings will be decided by those coaches at a seeding meeting Saturday afternoon.
Playoff games will start next weekend.
Baker was hoping for a good seed based on the strong GMC finish, Falls' five-game winning streak and the fact that the Indians' only two losses are to two unbeaten likely number one seeds (East and Southeast Conference champ Oak Creek, also 8-0).
"Now you're playing for the real thing," he said to the team immediately following the happy homecoming and senior night win. "You've played extremely hard and won games as a team. When one side lets down, another steps up."
"That's the sign of a great team."
Seniors defensive back/running back Cole Hernikl had one of five turnovers the Indians forced out of the Lancers with a sideline interception that stopped Central after it had reached the Falls' 25 in the fourth quarter, its best offensive effort of the night.
Hernikl said the defense, which limited the Lancers to just 91 total yards and five first downs, is playing with great confidence right now.
"We're always playing together, playing as one," he said. "We're reaching our potential, which is great. ...No one thought that we'd ever have a chance at winning conference and look how close we've come."
The defense set up the offense for both its touchdowns. After a scoreless first quarter, a bad pitchout by back-up Central quarterback Jack Knetter, was recovered on the Falls 43 by all-star Indian linebacker Brian Schmit.
Junior quarterback Adam Vechart then led the Falls' offense confidently down the field, going 57 yards in 11 plays, including calling his own number five times for 36 yards on a variety of quarterback draws and off-tackle plays.
Hernikl covered the last seven yards on a pitchout and race to the front left corner of the end zone with 11:11 remaining in the first half.
Then with about two minutes to go in the first half, senior defensive lineman DeShawn Pullen got on top of another Central fumble at the Lancer 10.
It took Falls only one play to convert as Vechart called his own number again on a draw up the middle, getting hit at the two but lunging forward and planting the ball over the goal-line with just 1:53 left in the half.
Falls had yet another chance to expand its lead in the first half as just two plays later, senior defensive back Mike Van Alstyne picked off a pass and returned it to the Central 32 with 58 seconds left.
But after Falls got the ball to the Lancer 12, Vechart was picked off in the end zone by Central defensive back Terry Wallen.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a few times, but that's still something we can work on," said Baker.
Falls still owned a 14-0 lead at the break.
The Indian offense had its struggles in the second half, including fumbles on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter. Those miscues gave the Lancers the ball at the Falls 48 and 45, respectively.
But on the first of those possessions, the Indians threw the Lancers back 16 yards and on the second Pullen stuffed Knetter for no gain on a third and five play.
"The kids (on the defense) have really gelled," said Indian defensive coordnator Erich Rutsch. "They're friends, they joke around with one another and they trust each other. They just enjoy playing together."
"Playing with these guys has been one of the best experiences of my life," said Pullen, putting some emphasis on Rutsch's point.
And that sense of joy came about late in the second half as Central made one last push. Knetter hit end Brandon Meyer on a spectacular 33-yard pitch-and-catch that got the Lancers to the Falls' 35.
Another Meyer catch got it to the 25, but then two plays later, Knetter, who was under great duress anytime he dropped back this evening, threw the pick to Hernikl.
A series later, he threw another intception, this one snagged by Falls senior linebacker Matt Conrady. That for all intensive purposes, sealed the victory.
Hernikl said that the late September upset win over Hamilton fueled the Indians' current run and he doesn't see it stopping anytime soon.
"That was the biggest win of the year," he said of the Hamilton game, "and that helped get us here. We're hot going into the playoffs, which is exactly what we want."
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