Oak Creek back to powerhouse form

Sept. 21, 2012

The last time an Oak Creek football team beat Kenosha Bradford, Mike Bartholomew was on the other side.

Considering he’s in his sixth season leading the Knights, it had been awhile. It last happened in 2005.

But Friday night, that all changed. Oak Creek dominated the defending state champion in every aspect of the game, cruising to a 42-10 victory at Jaskwhich Stadium in Kenosha.

Bartholomew, who was the head coach at Bradford from 2002-06 before taking the job at Oak Creek, usually jots down a score prediction for the following week’s game after breaking down film of the opponent on Sunday’s.

This week, he wrote down 31-20, Knights.

He was confident his team would win but didn’t expect how impressively they’d do it.

“Our defense just played so great,” Bartholomew said. “They set us up for four scores, and that makes a huge difference.”

The Knights (5-0, 4-0 Southeast Conference) defense held the Red Devils offense, which averaged nearly 27 points per game in their first four contests, to just four first downs that weren’t caused by a penalty. Two came when the game was 42-3.

“Our defense can play, man,” Bartholomew said. “They get after it. (Defensive coordinator) Steve (Hluchnik) and our defensive staff do a great job.”

After forcing a Bradford (2-3, 2-2) three-and-out to start the game, Oak Creek needed just two plays to find the end zone as junior running back Derrick Stephan went 71 yard for the score.

That was just the sign of things to come.

Oak Creek threw the ball just three times. It didn’t need to with 364 rushing yards.

Senior Virgil Hammond rushed for 158 yards on 22 carries, while Stephan added 146 on 12.

Hammond, the stepson of former Green Bay Packer and current Knights running backs coach Ahman Green, found the end zone for the first of his four rushing touchdowns with 9:21 until half, scampering in from 13 yards out to make it 14-0.

Bartholomew tried to get tricky and called a double pass on Oak Creek’s next drive, but the Knights fumbled and the ball was kicked all the way down to the Knights’ 8-yard line, where Bradford recovered.

The stingy Oak Creek defense wasn’t fazed, and Bradford gained just a yard in three plays, settling for a 24-yard field goal from senior Eric Wittkowske to make it 14-3 at the half.

Oak Creek pulled away in the third quarter, forcing two turnovers and scoring on three consecutive drives to put the game away.

Hammond scored on a 33-yard run on the opening drive of the half. On the ensuing Bradford drive, Oak Creek recovered a fumble on its own 16 yard line and punched in a two-yard touchdown run from sophomore backup quarterback Steve Stilwell.

The Red Devils fumbled again on their next drive; this time Oak Creek recovered on its 25 and Hammond scored from two yards out.

In the blink of an eye, Oak Creek turned a 14-3 halftime lead into a 35-3 advantage.

Hammond scored again from two yards early in the fourth quarter to make it 42-3.

“The defense came out right away, stopped them and we scored second play,” Hammond said. “It kept going from there. I tell my offensive line every day that I believe in them. I don’t get into the end zone without them.”

Bradford could only manage 165 yards against Oak Creek, with 53 of them coming late in the fourth quarter on a touchdown run by senior running back Phil Lynch.

The win makes Oak Creek playoff eligible for the first time since 2009 and the second time under Bartholomew.

That was goal number one, but now that it’s out of the way, Oak Creek has its eyes on more.

“Now we want to win the league,” Bartholomew said. “Realistically the goal now is to beat Tremper on Friday. We have to stay focused and take care of the task at hand. Our kids are pretty good, they understand.”

After Friday, Oak Creek leads the Southeast Conference by one game over Franklin and Racine Horlick. The Knights have already beaten Franklin and will host Horlick in two weeks.

“It is a good situation to be in,” Bartholomew said. “But we have to take care of Tremper next week.”

It might be a good sign for Oak Creek that its last conference title came in 2005, the same year it last beat Bradford.

“Everyone treats us as the underdog,” Hammond said. “We came out and made a statement that we aren’t messing around anymore.”


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