One game does not a season make, but for the Menomonee Falls football team a foundation can be laid on opening night and the Indians did just that on Friday, controling much of the game in beating host Oak Creek, 16-10.
"It's not the season," said coach John Baker, "but we can build off this. I think we just surprised a few people. With the way we fought for each other tonight, we can roll with this, this is special."
Veteran quarterback Adam Vechart agreed. Vechart was one of those people who picked up the gauntlet, rushing many times late in the game as the Indians were trying to kill the clock after top running back Christian Almonte went out with a leg cramp.
"We did a good job here tonight," Vechart said, "and this will only help our confidence. There are a lot of new people out there without a lot of experience and this will help us go into next week (the home opener next Friday against West Bend East)."
For the defending Southeast Conference champion Knights it was a lesson in fitness. Oak Creek is replacing nine starters from a top-notch defense and the Knights were also a bit short-handed due to injury, but coach Mike Bartholomew didn't want to use that an as excuse.
"Our defense got tired in the second half," he said. "We had too many three and outs on offense and that left us on the field too long."
"I also didn't like our pad level. We weren't getting any momentum up front."
Still, the Knights had a chance at it late. The Indians, who had lost to the Knights in the opener last season, stuffed Oak Creek on four straight downs late iin the fourth quarter as the Knights were desperately trying to cut into a 13-3 deficit.
Falls started on the Oak Creek 22 after that sequence, but the Knight defense held, forcing the Indians to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Alec Knuese, which gave the Indians a seemingly insurmountable 16-3 lead with 3:09 left.
But the Knight offense, which had been held without a first down by Falls on four previous sequences in the second half, came to life. Quarterback Jordan Strong hit end Nathan Harvey for a 42-yard gain. A defensive penalty on Falls on the play moved the ball to the Indian seven.
Two plays later, senior fullback Derrick Stephan bolted up the middle seven yards for the TD to make it 16-10 with just 1:40 left.
"We were there with a chance to win it if we recover the onside kick," said Bartholomew. "That's all we could have asked."
But the Indians' senior tight end Dan Dahlke came out of the onside scrum with the ball and in a few plays, Falls was able to run out the clock and preserve the victory.
Baker was very impressed by the Indians' defensive effort, which held the Knights to just 59 yards in the second half (and 213 total), despite it too having to replace nine starters from a stout 2012 unit.
"All the credit for that goes to the defensive coaches (headed up by coordinator Erich Rutsch and his staff) and the players," said Baker. "They're the ones who did all the work."
Falls was ahead the entire game. It took the initial advantage in the second quarter, when the Indians took advantage of a short punt that put them at the Oak Creek 34-yard line.
A key Vechart completion to Jason Precia of nine yards and then a run of eight yards by Almonte (22 carries for 74 yards) gave Falls a first and goal at the Knight five. On the next play, sophomore running back Bryce McMurtry raced around end for a TD with 6:25 left in the half.
Oak Creek responded by putting together its most concerted drive of the half, going 51 yards in seven plays before settling for a 30-yard field goal from Matt Hargreaves that made it 7-3 at the half.
But the Indians came out on fire in the second half. They forced the first three and out right after the opening kickoff and then pounded the ball 63 yards in 13 plays before hitting paydirt.
Almonte gained two yards to convert a critical fourth and one and Vechart (20 carries for 86 yards) bolted around end for 13 to give the Indians a first and goal on the five.
Two plays later, Almonte surged over the right side from three yards out to make it 13-3 with 4:27 left in the third. The fast start to the half was crucial, said Vechart.
"It was very important to get that first touchdown of the second half," said Vechart. "It gave us a two-score lead. ...I was not at all surprised by that at all. Our offensive linemen have been working hard since day one, getting better every single day."
"This was a fun game."
"This is a huge win," said Baker. "These are two potential (state) playoff teams looking to open well. I was proud of the intensity of our line work on both offense and defense."
Falls was able to rush for 197 yards on the night.
Meanwhile, Bartholomew sees a lot of work ahead for his team.
"We just got behind schedule on down and distance all night," he said, "and that's a killer. We couldn't convert third and longs and too often we'd have something like a second and five and then it would turn into a third and nine. That's just hard to overcome."
Donovan Brown had 81 yards on 12 carries for the Knights while Stephan added 74 on 21 tries.
For Baker and the Falls, it is as he said. He wants the team to build on this start because he sees big things ahead.
"Don't be satisfied," he told the Indians. "This was a solid day, but don't be satisfied."
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