Oak Creek football team's dream season comes to a crashing end to Bradford
Late bomb knocks Knights out of playoffs
Oak Creek - The Kenosha Bradford Red Devils looked a lot more like the 2011 edition of themselves than the team that faced Oak Creek just more than a month ago.
A thrilling 58-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nate Wilson to wideout Danny Lira with seven seconds left lifted visiting fourth-seeded Bradford to a stunning 21-14 upset over the top-seeded Knights in a WIAA Division 1 Level 2 playoff matchup last Friday.
On Sept. 21, Oak Creek thumped Bradford, 42-10.
It was clear from the pregame introductions, however, that Bradford wasn't about to back down from a dogfight.
"Five weeks ago they handled us on both sides of the ball," Bradford head coach Jim Camerota said. "They did whatever they wanted to do to us.
"We had 140 total yards in that game, so this is a tremendous turnaround for our kids."
After a shouting match in warm-ups that was separated by officials and coaches, a back-and-forth battle ensued, ending with Wilson's dramatic touchdown toss.
Lined up wide left, Lira ran a double move and left a defender several yards behind him. Wilson, who replaced injured starter Draven LaFayette in the second half, threw a perfect pass that hit Lira in stride. It was the second of two complete passes thrown by Bradford all night - both caught by Lira, who finished with 80 yards.
"Our offensive coordinator was not about to just take a knee or just dive the ball and go to overtime," Camerota said. "So I knew he was going to go after it. I didn't know it would be quite that clean of a route, but I knew he would go after it.
"But Nate came in and threw a hell of a ball, and Danny's got some speed."
With that, Oak Creek's stunning Southeast Conference championship season came to a crashing end with a 9-1 record.
Hammond comes up big
With both teams scoreless deep into the first half, Bradford capitalized on a fumble to drive 48 yards and take a 7-0 lead on Henry Cabrera's 15-yard touchdown rush. With just 45 seconds left in the half, it appeared that score would hold going into the break.
But after a kick return gave the Knights the ball at midfield, they rattled off a 41-yard touchdown run from tailback Virgil Hammond.
Locked again in a draw for the third quarter, it wasn't until the 5:06 mark in the final quarter that Bradford regained a 14-7 lead. With the Knights facing a fourth and four from their own 32-yard line, the punt team marched onto the field.
A somewhat unusual punt formation gave the appearance of a possible fake. The ball was snapped, and miscommunication led to the punter kicking into Hammond, who seemed to be waiting for the ball on a fake.
"We run a check, and I called it off on the sideline," Knights head coach Mike Bartholomew said. "Virgil did not hear the check. So, he ran the fake and we punted and that's what happened. That happens. It was loud."
Bradford's Taylor Stoner scooped up the loose ball and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
Drive ties the game
Again, the Knights rallied with their season on the line, converting a fourth down attempt and assembling a 10-play touchdown drive capped by a 13-yard pass from Jordan Strong to Chase Leonardi.
With 42 seconds left, overtime appeared imminent, but Wilson and Lira had other ideas.
Cabrera led Bradford's offense with 129 yards on 24 carries, while Hammond paced Oak Creek with 91 yards on 18 attempts.
Despite September's lopsided contest, Bartholomew knew the playoff game would be very different.
"We saw it on film," he said. "They got it going. Their physicality came back. Their linemen played much better. I was really impressed with them defensively. They took us out of a lot of the things that we wanted to do."
Quite the journey
While Bradford (7-3) prepares for Lake Geneva Badger, which defeated Franklin, 28-21, on Friday, the Knights end a stellar season with a sour taste. It is Oak Creek's only loss in a nine-win conference championship season.
"I'm as competitive as the next person, but it's the journey and not so much the destination," Bartholomew said. "I was so proud of how they played together as a team all year.
"You don't come back like we did without having that team concept. In that playoff situation, it ends so quickly. This one's going to sting for an awfully long time, but the kids can be proud of what they put together."
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