Despite the fact that he has more starters back on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive, Oak Creek football coach Mike Bartholomew is not questioning the progress of his defensive bunch, especially after the Knights' impressive 27-0 blanking of Wilmot on Friday.
"I really liked how we improved from week one," Bartholomew said, referring to a 16-10 loss to Menomonee Falls. "The intensity level, the discipline —we're starting to come together as a team.
"And I was really happy with the defense. I think they got down deep on us once, maybe to the 25, and then we shut them down."
All told, Oak Creek held Wilmot to a 149 total yards as the Knights offense rolled up 379.
The victory put the Knights (1-1) in a good frame of mind as they start school and prepare to open Southeast Conference play at Kenosha Indian Trail on Saturday at 1 p.m. Bartholomew is looking to be at close to full strength for that one. This game will be the first of three games out of the next four on the road for the Knights after having the first two at home.
"We got two more kids back that we didn't have against Falls, and we should get more for Saturday," he said. "It's funny how certain years go. We hardly had any injuries last season, but in the first few weeks here, we've had more injuries than we had all of last year.
"But we can't use that as an excuse. We have a next man up philosophy here. People have to fill in the gaps."
Oak Creek did a nice job of that against Wilmot. The Knights got off to a slow start, but then exploded for three second-period touchdowns to take control.
Derrick Stephan finished off one drive with a four-yard run for a score and then shortly thereafter he dashed in from 13 yards out to make it 14-0. Eli Strong finished off the half, taking a 14-yard TD pass from his brother to make it 20-0.
That was a big part of a balanced rushing effort for the Knights that netted them 302 yards on the night, as the senior veteran Stephan finished with 128 yards on 18 carries while the junior newcomer Jamie Smith finished with 116 yards on 17 carries.
Smith finished off the scoring with a five-yard run in the third quarter.
"The backs ran very well," Bartholomew said. "Two guys over 100 yards each. That was pretty typical of us last year.
Bartholomew also was pleased with the progress of Jordan Strong from the quarterback's slot. He finished seven of 12 passing for 74 yards with the TD toss to his credit. His brother had four catches for 50 yards with the score.
"Jordan played within himself pretty well," Bartholomew said. "If he continues to do that and plays and manages a game like that, we can be a pretty good team.
"Still, there are things we need to clean up offensively, but the pad level (of the offensive line) was much better, and though we haven't officially graded it yet, we came off the ball a lot harder. The way we're built, we have to come off the ball and create movement if we're going to get anywhere."
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!
- Sports Shorts: Dec. 5
- Experienced Mitchell lands All-Suburban spot for Oak Creek
- Top-ranked Oak Creek girls basketball team has high goals this season
- Top-ranked Oak Creek girls basketball team defeats King, cruises to 2-0
- Friendly rivals: Franklin swimmers help Oak Creek when repairs needed
- Sport Shorts: Nov. 14
- Sports Shorts: Oct. 31
- Quintet off and running to state
- Speed just too much for Oak Creek football in loss
- Social media story: Prep football playoffs: Division 1 Level 1