Former coach Cerroni leaves imprint on Indians football squad
Staff that led Falls to 7-3 this year hired by him
Menomonee Falls - The pipeline of gridiron success carried from Oshkosh to Menomonee Falls and back again this year.
The Menomonee Falls football team, without its returning quarterback, was not expected to do much of anything this fall, but the 7-3 Indians wound up just a play or two away from a Greater Metro Conference title and made the second round of the state playoffs.
The Indians only losses came to teams with a combined record of 28-4 and which won two conference championships.
These kids took after their coaches, a trio who go back more than a decade. The head man is John Baker who paced the surprising Indians to the WIAA State Division 1 finals in 2009, and he is flanked by offensive coordinator Jamie Doyle and defensive coordinator Erich Rutsch, an old son of the Falls himself.
They, along with receivers' coach Bobby Regent-Smith, were all hired by former Falls coach Pat Cerroni, who headed up the Indians from 1997-99.
A hard-nosed, eagle-eyed but also imaginative and thoughtful coach, Cerroni had tremendous moments at Falls, especially in 1997 with impressive victories over Brookfield Central ("We're going for two," he told then-quarterback Jeff Pitrof against Central, and then Pitrof nailed the pass for the victory in overtime) and defending state champ Arrowhead in the state playoffs (former coaches Jim Jeskewitz and Bob Hessler raced out onto the Arrowhead field to congratulate him after that one).
He went off to serve first as an assistant coach and then later head coach at UW-Oshkosh not before turning the reins over at Falls to the highly successful Bob Vitale, who subsequently gave way to Baker.
UW-O knocks off champs
Cerroni has continued his success at Oshkosh. His 10-0 Titans won the WIAC, knocking off defending national champion UW-Whitewater on its homecoming in the process. Oshkosh opens NCAA III national playoffs this weekend at home, creating a ring of success that the program has not seen in decades.
And not surprisingly, one of the anchors of that success for the Titans is 2009 NOW Player of the Year running back Cole Myhra of that state finals Falls team.
When sent a small note of encouragement for the Whitewater game, Cerroni couldn't help but send one back praising his former assistants and hires at Falls.
"We had fun for three short years and don't think I will ever forget that experience," he said. "… I am so proud of John, Doyle and Erich Rutsch. They are doing a great job."
"I'm extremely proud of Pat myself," Baker said. "He's one of the best coaches I've ever worked with, and he taught a lot of our current staff a lot about football and how to go about things. Just watch how Oshkosh wins. He's really built something special there.
"He had a vision."
And now it can be clearly seen that Baker and his staff have vision, too. Instead of pouting over not having an experienced triggerman to run the offense, they turned the quarterback's job over to junior Adam Vechart and gave him all the confidence in the world.
Vechart made plays
The Indians offense didn't frighten anyone this season, but behind Vechart it became more than capable and came up with big plays in important wins over Greater Metro Conference titans Sussex Hamilton (when the Chargers were still unbeaten), Marquette and Brookfield Central.
"Adam went above and beyond what was expected of him," Baker said. "He became a great leader and filled the role to the best of his ability."
The Hamilton game was a signature one for the Falls. No one expected the Indians to do anything against the powerful Chargers, but Falls pulled out a thrilling, 24-21 upset.
"It is and always will be a bloodbath when it comes to Hamilton," Baker said, "but I believe that will go down as one of the better victories in Falls' history. You can never predict when you'll have a great game, but the kids went above themselves to get a victory that night.
"A great, great game, a real turning point. What high school football is all about and why you love it."
And a key part of all those victories was the defense. Behind the coordination of Rutsch and assistants Dan and Kyle Lutz, and Jordan Shull and Mike Burling, the Indians became masters of bend don't break, giving up an average of only 15 points a game as defensive back Cole Hernikl and linebackers Rajaee Vasser and, especially, Brian Schmit were the emotional and physical leaders.
Baker went as far as saying that he thought the multitalented Hernikl would make a great coach himself one day.
And it goes back to something that Cerroni taught his cadré of young coaches way back when.
Getting them to believe
"We got the kids to believe and that was an amazing thing," Baker said. "You don't win without your athletes. You've got to convince them how good they can be. That they can prove it to themselves."
And the cool thing is that Baker and company get to do it all over again next year. The senior class is large, but they are returning talent such as Vechart, speed-demon running back Christian Almonte, receiver Daniel Dahlke and all-world guard Jackie DeWalt to lead the offense.
The defense will take a bit of work as the unit's top players, such as the all-region selections Vasser and Schmit were all seniors, but Baker and company will enjoy the challenge. The freshmen were 7-1 and the junior varsity 4-4.
"A phenomenal year, a fun year," Baker said. "The team chemistry was evident from the first day of practice. That's what made it fun."
And Cerroni would have approved of that outcome.
Year end statistics
FINAL RECORD: 7-3
POINTS FOR: 190
POINTS AGAINST: 139
PASSING: Adam Vechart 48 of 104 (46 percent) for 587 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions
RUSHING: Christian Almonte 82 carries for 570 yards and five TDs; Cole Hernikl 91-427-4; and Vechart 99-337-1
RECEIVING: Justin Johnson 24 catches for 380 yards and two TDs; Daniel Dahlke 12-119-0
SENIORS: Hernikl, Matt Conrady, Nate Boehler, DeShawn Pullen, Tanner Larson, Alex Cieslewicz, Evan Plank, Schmit, Johnson, Mike Van Alstyne, A.J. Laskowski, Nick Jafuta, Vasser, Tommy Lor, Cameron Green, Matt Aili, David Mackey, Kris Kucharski, Dan Bell, Zach Timmer, Adam Henningsen, Ben Eruchalu, Joe Laurishke, Troy Tyler, Ezeugo Nwonye and Nick Umbs
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!
- Menomonee Falls' wrestlers Crangle and Daly medal at state
- Boys basketball: Kettle Moraine adds to school-record win total
- Daly, Crangle, Higginbotham make semis in WIAA state wrestling
- Menomonee Falls wrestlers shatter records with seven state qualifiers
- Seiler takes two WIAA state seconds for Menomonee Falls swim co-op
- Falls wrestlers earn second straight team state tourney berth
- Falls wrestlers earn repeat berth to team state, hammer Tosa, 66-8
- SPORTS SHORTS
- Dramatic finish earns Falls wrestlers WIAA regional title
- Indians tankers advance three individuals, two relays to state meet