For 2 1/2 quarters on Friday, the Menomonee Falls football team, despite giving up hundreds of pounds of line weight and years of experience to visiting Oak Creek, had the Knights on the ropes to the tune of a 10-0 deficit in opening-night action.
But then the Knights forgot all their lofty, preseason rankings and just started playing football.
They scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter and then held on to overwhelm the game Indians by a 20-10 to count.
"This should serve as a lesson to us," said Oak Creek coach Mike Bartholomew to the team afterwards on the muggy, foggy evening. "We are not the hunter this year; we are the hunted. We've got to practice like we're in second place all week long and then play like we're in first place all game long."
One key player who did do that this evening was senior defensive back/receiver Doran Turchin. Turchin, the NOW Newspapers Baseball Player of the Year for the Knights, did not play football last season in order to concentrate on baseball, but he made his presence felt in his return to the gridiron.
He had one of three first-half interceptions for the Knights to keep the deficit at only 7-0 and then caught a wide open pass from quarterback Steve Stilwell and turned it into a 67-yard go-ahead TD with just 38 seconds left in the third quarter.
Oak Creek would never trail again.
"We just had to keep telling ourselves, 'Never stop believing in what we were doing,' that we would get the job done," said Turchin of the early deficit. "We knew we would come around and that the defense would eventually do the job."
Which happened, as the Knights started this season of high hopes season at 1-0.
Falls coach John Baker was pleased with the effort of his young, very green players and his assistants as the Indians were clearly not initimidated by the Southeast Conference favorites.
"To be honest, I couldn't be more proud of the way the kids played tonight," he said. "They played their rear ends off. ...We know we're not huge on defense, but the kids played really hard there, and we had a lot of first-year guys in there too (on defense).
"I really take my hat off to the kids and my assistants for their good game plan."
The Indians needed to have a good game plan, because the offensive line of Oak Creek doesn't have a person under 280 pounds, while Falls scarcely has a person over 250 on its entire roster.
But that didn't prevent Falls from taking the game to the favored Knights early on, outgaining them 142 yards to 125 in the first half despite the three interceptions from first-year quarterback Bryce McMurtry.
It was McMurtry who gave the Indians the lead midway through the second quarter, with a nifty 46-yard touchdown dash down the sideline on an option read to make it 7-0.
Then the Falls defense came up big as the Knights held the ball for 10 plays on the next possession and reached the Indians 17 before being stopped on downs.
Bartholomew was impressed by the Falls effort.
"Those kids played their butts off," he said, "and they really didn't do anything similar to what we had prepared for (defensively). They just had a really good scheme. We could keep yelling at our kids, but eventually it just came down to communication."
Still, early in the second half, the Indians had the upper hand, forcing a three and out of the Knights and then taking advantage of good field position and a 20-yard McMurtry to Ben Knudsen pass. That set up a 34-yard field goal from Alec Knuese that made the score 10-0 Falls with 7:21 left in the third.
But that's when Oak Creek decided to lay the lumber on the Indians. The Knights went 66 yards on eight plays on the subsequent drive, all of them on the ground, as veteran running back Jamie Smith finally got Oak Creek on the board with a 23-yard with 3:09 left in the third.
Smith, who got off to a slow start, finished with 118 yards on 17 carries.
And as Turchin predicted, the Knight defense would help out, getting a big three and out. The offense would thank them by taking just three plays to give Oak Creek the lead for good, as Turchin found himself wide open on the left side, running a "12-10 put pattern."
He gathered in Stilwell's pass and used that baseball-honed speed to gallop untouched into the end zone for a 14-10 lead that the Knights would not surrender.
"I wasn't sure how I got so wide open," he said, "but I do remember I got a great block from (senior receiver) Garrett Koch."
Then the game got a little sloppy. Two big penalties gave ther Indians a chance on the next series. They got it down to the Oak Creek 23, but a fumble stymied the opportunity.
Four plays later, the Knights turned the ball right back over to the Indians on a fumble of their own. Falls got the ball at the Oak Creek 43, picked up a quick first down, but then started going backwards with a false start and a holding penalty.
A muffed Falls exchange was recovered by the Knights' Ryan Stenlund on the Oak Creek 46.
The Indians thought they had a strip of the ball a few plays later, but the play was whistled dead.
"A lot of hinky things happened in the third and fourth quarter," said Baker.
Falls tried using its timeouts, but to no avail. Stilwell ran a perfect bootleg for a 25 yard gain and the clinching first down. A few plays later, Smith went over from two yards out to seal the deal with just 19 seconds to go.
Turchin said forcing the turnovers and getting the stops were huge.
"Once we got the lead, we knew the pressure was back on us (the defense)," he said. "We didn't want to give it up."
"We overcame ourselves tonight," said Bartholomew. "The kids kept working and I was proud of how we were able to come back against a good program on the road. Those kids and coaches over there (at Falls) are outstanding."
Falls was led by McMurtry, who rushed for 72 yards on 10 carries and Michael Bowe, who had 12 carries for 71 yards.
"Otherwise, we're happy with the effort," said Baker. "We'll fix the mistakes, try to eliminate the turnovers. ...We had some goals against a very good opponent tonight. We wanted to see if we could play hard the whole game and the kids really answered the bell in that regard."
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