The Brown Deer football team is known for its quick-strike spread-style offense, led by athletic and charismatic performers like quarterback Brett Youngbeck and all-world running back Chris Smith.
But with Youngbeck out with a knee injury and not even playing on a windy and rainy Friday night in St. Francis and then with Smith going down with a lower leg malady in the second quarter, the Falcons found themselves without their "flash" and "dash" and in need of some character.
Especially when the Mariners (3-3) fueled hopes for a homecoming night upset by scoring three consecutive TDs in the second quarter, erasing a 13-0 Brown Deer lead and taking a 20-13 advantage into halftime.
So coach Rob Green had to reach deep into his motivational playbook in those short moments of the break.
"It really became a gutcheck," he said. "We had to reach down and become one, become tight. We had to play hard no matter who was carrying the ball, and I just challenged the seniors and they really took over."
Yes, they did, as the Falcons with a gusty wind at their backs and steady rain pelting their helmets, scored 27 unanswered points in the third quarter, rallying around sophomore quarterback Jake Schimenz and powerful senior linebacker/fullback Scott Richardson for a 40-20 win.
"We just told ourselves that we had to keep our heads up," said Richardson, otherwise known as "Tank". "Coach just said that it's 0-0 now and that we couldn't let down."
Richardson had several tackles for loss, a key fumble recovery and even carried the ball seven times for 45 yards on a time-consuming seven-minute drive in the fourth quarter.
The win improved the Falcons to 6-0 and effectively clinched their second consecutive WIAA state playoff berth.
But in no way did it come easily.
After the Mariners' Keyon Lawson (22 carries for 84 yards) bulled his way up the middle from seven yards out for a TD with just 19 seconds left in the first half, St. Francis had all the momentum. It was the Mariners third straight score and the Falcons looked flat, especially after Smith (eight carries for 97 yards) went down earlier in the second quarter.
Brown Deer had only 22 total yards in its final four possessions of the first half including a fumble.
But the Falcons had advantages going into the third quarter, including getting the kickoff and going with the wind.
The first drive in the third would be crucial and Brown Deer made the most of it.
Schimenz, who would complete eight of 11 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in his starting debut, hit Tray Palmer for 34 yards over the middle for a first and goal at the St. Francis eight. Two plays later, Schimenz, who also had 19 carries for 78 yards and three rushing TDs, swept in from three yards out to make it 20-19.
"That was just awesome to come out like that," said offensive tackle Tory Dibb. "We were just going to work it and not let it go. We came out early and pushed and showed we weren't going to quit."
But Green was still looking for a big play from his defense, which had been gashed for 221 yards in the first half by the Mariners. He got it on the next series when sophomore defensive back Pietro D'Amato, who was subbing in for Schimenz in the secondary, jumped an out route and intercepted quarterback Robert Kowalczyk's pass, racing in from 40 yards out for the go-ahead TD.
When Schimenz fought his way in for the two-point conversion, Brown Deer was up 27-20 with 8:02 left in the third and had all the momentum it would need.
"Pietro's been working hard, really trying to prove himself," said Green. "His timing was perfect."
But the Falcons weren't done yet. They got another stop (part of an impressive second half stand by the defense) and in just four plays, they found themselves back in the end zone as Schimenz hit end Sean Andryauskyus on a deep out pattern for 30 yards and another TD with 2:45 left in the third.
Andryauskus, despite the absence of Youngbeck, still had six receptions for 75 yards and two TDs, including another 30-yard effort in the first quarter to make it 13-0 Falcons.
Brown Deer forced one more three and out and finished off the scoring with a four-play 38-yard drive. Najee Williams keyed it with a 33-yard run around end and on a third and goal from the 10, Schimenz brought the ball down and ran it right up the middle for his final TD of the night on the last play of the stanza.
The Mariners, who were held to just 38 total yards on 20 plays in the second half, never threatened in the fourth quarter.
Dibb said that this game showed that the Falcons had a lot of heart to go with their impressive talent.
"This was just wanting to play football," he said. "To be like a family."
And to show that families stick up for one another when the chips are down.
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