Knights defense rises to the occasion
Oak Creek stifles Indians, 21-6, in season opener
Oak Creek - At the end of last season, there were too many bad memories for the Oak Creek football team's defense to recall, as opponents ran up and down the field on the Knights in the final three contests.
That had to change going into 2012 if the Knights were to make a run at the state playoffs.
And maybe it will on the strength of one play in the fourth quarter of Oak Creek's 21-6 season-opening triumph over non-conference opponent and host Menomonee Falls Friday.
The Knights had dominated the Indians for much of three quarters, but after taking a 14-0 lead, they squandered a couple of opportunities to make it a three-score game.
And Falls started to put the squeeze on the Knights, as the Indians took advantage of a short punt to go 48 yards in just seven plays. Quarterback Adam Vechart's 31-yard scramble led to the Indians' only score as Justin Johnson plowed his way over from a yard out to make it 14-6 with still 9:16 left to play.
Further, the Falls defense, which had been pushed around by Oak Creek to the tune of 173 first half yards, rose up and forced its second three and out from the Knights in as many possessions.
Hahn creates turnover
Falls had the ball at its own 43 with 8:17 left to play and a chance to tie the game.
"But not so fast" said the Knights all-state level outside linebacker/defensive end Alex Hahn, who raced up behind Vechart on the subsequent second down play and punched the ball out of his hands and right into those of teammate Dylan Parks, who returned it to the Falls 18.
Senior running back Virgil Hammond (139 yards) took it from there, carrying on six straight downs before plunging over from three yards out with 5:29 left to play.
The Knights were up 21-6 at that point and were home free.
"I just saw my chance and took it," said Hahn of his play. "It wasn't good (the defense) last year, but we have most of our starters back. We were almost all juniors last year and we've gotten better."
Knights coach Mike Bartholomew was relieved and pleased.
"We've improved so much on defense," Bartholomew said. "That was a big, important goal for us. We're trying to see the game as three parts - special teams, offense and defense - and they all have to work together. If one part isn't having a good night, another needs to pick up the slack."
Starting out fast
The Knights impressively drove down the field on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead. They ran off 21 plays to the Indians' three in the first quarter.
The opening march took just six plays to go 52 yards, as first-year quarterback Jordan Strong (6 of 10 for 63 yards) hit tight end Jordan Veloz on an 11-yard TD pass to give Oak Creek a 7-0 lead just 2:39 into the season.
The Oak Creek defense then stymied the Indians on a third and inches play and forced them to punt.
After that, the Knights grinded out an impressive 17-play drive that took close to eight minutes and, because of two penalties, accumulated more than 100 yards. Junior running back Derrick Stephan dashed over from two-yards out at the 11:24 mark of the second quarter.
Hammond had seven carries for 47 yards on the drive but the biggest play came from Hahn, as he converted a third and 17 with a 19-yard gain on a reverse.
Oak Creek had a chance to pad the lead just before half but Indians defender Rajaee Vasser blew up a pitch-out play and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive back Brandon Reeves.
Falls was able to get to the Oak Creek 19, but a Knights blitz collapsed the pocket and Vechart was hit on the throw. Veloz was there for the interception that effectively ended the half.
Looking to get better
The Knights had one more chance in the third quarter to add to the advantage, but after getting to the Falls 1-yard line, three subsequent motion penalties eventually resulted in a blocked field goal.
That would be the prelude to the fourth quarter fireworks.
"We just couldn't get it to a three-possession game, but then our defense forced a turnover and we were able to capitalize," Bartholomew said.
Baker thought his team improved as the game went along, especially his Vechart (6 of 13 passing for 46 yards).
"We just need to step up as a team and eliminate our mistakes," Baker said.
A point Bartholomew and the Knights want to emphasize.
"The biggest improvement is between Weeks 1 and 2," said Bartholomew, "and we have a lot of opportunities to improve, because this team has a lot of places it can go if it wants to."
Oak Creek starts 1-0
Defense looks good most of game
GAME NOTES: Hammond's uncle Ahman Green had to be pleased with his nephew's effort (30 carries for 139 yards) as the senior ran hard between the tackles all game long. Green is a former Green Bay Packers running back and an assistant coach at Oak Creek. … Bianca Alarcon, an Oak Creek female kicker who had a fine season last spring for the girls soccer team, looked good hitting all three extra points. She even made a field goal that was later called back for a penalty.
UP NEXT: The Knights will have their Southeast Conference home opener at 7 p.m. Friday against Racine Park, which was a 32-12 loser to North Shore power Cedarburg in its opener Friday.
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