Oak Creek - Oak Creek football coach Mike Bartholomew got a unique and rare reward after his team routed Kenosha Indian Trail, 69-7 on Oct. 12 to complete an undefeated regular season and undisputed Southeast Conference championship.
"My son (senior reserve defensive back and special teams ace Brett Bartholomew), he actually hugged me," said Mike. "That's a first for a 17-year old boy. That's one I'll remember."
As will be this season, as Bartholomew has made this title a full family affair with his father Bill working with defensive coordinator Steve Hluchnik on honing the skills of the defensive backs.
It has been effective work as the Knights (8-0) have given up only 23 first-half points and will enter the WIAA state playoffs as a No. 1 seed in Group D of the WIAA Division 1 bracket. They will host Milwaukee Hamilton (3-5) in a Level 1 playoff game at 7 p.m. Oct. 19.
If they win, they will host the winner of Milwaukee Riverside and Kenosha Bradford on either Oct. 26 or 27 in a Level 2 tilt.
The Knights haven't been this close to deep-playoff, highly-rarefied air since 2003. That year, they made the Division 1 state semifinals, losing a 26-25 heartbreaker to eventual Division 1 runner-up Arrowhead.
They blanked Milwaukee Hamilton, 52-0, in their last playoff experience in 2009, before losing an exciting Level 2 decision to eventual champion Marquette, 35-28.
Oak Creek has also fallen in state championship bids in 1997 and 1998.
Coach Bartholomew isn't thinking that far ahead just yet, but he knows that great opportunity lies before this sum-is-greater-than-total-of-the-parts bunch.
"Some of this is what we anticipated," she said. "We expected to contend for the conference title, but we never expected anything like this. We knew we were capable of good things.
"And the real key to it all has been this team's unselfishness. It has been most impressive thing. No one cares who gets the credit or the headlines. Going into the playoffs like we are, that's an awfully big issue to have solved."
He credits a lot of that team-first attitude to his senior tri-captains offensive lineman Aaron Lemke, all-world defensive end/outside linebacker Alex Hahn and running back Virgil Hammond.
"They've been great leaders," said Bartholomew, "and we're genuinely excited. It's been since 2003 that we've had an opportunity like this. We've been hanging in there and some of the tough times that we've had in-between have made us appreciate times like this even more.
"We're healthy, and we're getting a few more people back this week who we've been missing. That's a big positive. We're ready to go."
Knights finish unbeaten
Indian Trail provides little opposition
GAME SUMMARY: After spotting Indian Trail the first TD of the game, Oak Creek went on a rampage, scoring 69 unanswered points, including 49 in the first half. Bartholomew was able to empty his bench as running backs Virgil Hammond (14 carries for 184 yards) and Derrick Stephan (8-133) each ran for three scores. All told the Knights rushed for 440 yards as Paul Saari, Steve Stillwell and Donovan Brown also found paydirt. In the first half, starting quarterback Jordan Strong also found end Zack Harvey for a 15-yard TD pass. Strong finished three of four on the night for 66 yards.
"A big positive out of this was that we were able to get a lot of people playing time," said Bartholomew. "Getting them good game experience at this point is invaluable because if someone goes down, they're the next guys in."
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