Towards the end of an already alarmingly bad first half for the Oak Creek football team in its eventual season-ending 52-28 WIAA Division I Level I playoff loss to host Kenosha Indian Trail Friday night, some wag in the stands offered this advice for the defense:
"What you're doing isn't working, try something else!"
Easy for him to say, because the Knights, who had been looking for a bit of revenge against the Hawks for a regular season defeat two months ago, were often caught in what seemed to be a Halloween movie-style nightmare all evening long.
Because just like a ghost, everytime they tried to grasp an Indian Trail receiver or back, that player seemed to disappear into the open field and right into the end zone.
Over and over again.
All told, Indian Trail (8-2 overall) hit the stunned Knights (6-4) for eight plays of 30 yards or more including three of 70 or more. Six of them went for touchdowns.
"With our style of play we just could not get into a game where we forced to pass often and we were," said a dejected Oak Creek coach Mike Bartholomew who came into the game fired-up and optimistic, wearing shorts despite the 40-degree temperatures.
"Everytime we made a play to try to get back into the game they made a play back and that's the sign of a good team."
With the win, Indian Trail advances to a second round game against Southeast Conference champion Franklin (9-1), which routed Milwaukee Pulaski, 62-0 tonight.
Hawks coach Mike McKay was encouraged by the victory as his squad had ended the regular season with two consecutive losses.
"I was proud of the kids for the way they responded tonight," he said. "After the two losses, we could have been really down, but the kids were just hitting on all cylinders."
That they were as the Hawks scored with great alacrity. Touchdown drives in the 31-14 first half took three plays, nine plays (the longest of the evening for Trail), one play, and three plays.
Senior quarterback Zach Gianakos was a major threat with his feet or with his arm. In the first half it was his arm that did the major damage, as he hit end Michael Roach for a 79-yard TD (a 7-0 Hawks lead), found Alex Kerpan for a 76-yard TD strike (21-0 lead) and found Roach again for 85 yards (28-7 advantage).
To add insult to injury, late in the first half, Roach hit teammate Justin Rodriguez with a 38-yard pass off a fake punt to set up a 19-yard field goal by Brandon Deacon with just 10 seconds left before the break.
The Knights fought back in the first session as quarterback Steve Stilwell found back Jamie Smith with a TD pass up the sideline and Mario Arbanella burrowed in from a yard out to conclude a 15-play drive, but it was never enough.
Furthermore, the inury-bug hit Oak Creek at the worst time as top back Derrick Stephan went out with an ankle injury on the Knights second series and a short time later top defensive back Nick Baumann went out never to return after trying gamely to stop the TD strike to Kerpan.
"We tried to go to the next man up," said Bartholomew.
The Hawks ended any doubt on their first possession of the second half, taking five plays to go 63 yards as Gianakos hit Kerpan with a 35-yard scoring pass.
"We hardly give up a TD pass all season, our strength," said defensive coordinator Steve Hluchnik, "and we give three in the first half.
The margin never dropped below 17 after in the second half, even though Oak Creek scored on a one-yard run by Smith after an 11-play drive and Donovan Brown found the end zone in the waning seconds on an eight-yard run.
In the end, the Knights simply could not keep up with the Hawks' speed.
"They threw the ball much better than they did the first time around," said Bartholomew. "That was the key. We were there on a lot of those plays, but just a step behind it seemed."