For much of Friday night’s WIAA Division 2 football playoff game, Brookfield East was not in top form, while Greendale was playing well.
As a result, the game turned out to be a tight, exciting affair – but in the end, the Spartans made just a few more big plays than the Panthers and walked away with a 28-21 triumph at Stephen J. Gavinski Field in Greendale.
East improved to 10-0 and notched its first-ever second-round playoff victory. The Spartans will meet either Whitefish Bay or Brookfield Central next weekend in a third-round contest.
Greendale, meanwhile, finished an up-and-down season at 6-4.
“It was a great effort,” East head coach Tom Swittel said, “but we just didn’t play well. We were just out of sync on offense and defense. A lot of credit has to go to Greendale for that. They (the Panthers) played extremely well tonight, maybe as well as they could play, I don’t know.
“We made mistakes and made it difficult on ourselves, that’s for sure, but we found a way to win.”
Greendale head coach Rob Stoltz said, “We played well; we didn’t play great. We didn’t make all the plays that we needed to make. When you’re a team like we are, you have to play great to win. We played very well, I thought, but ultimately, it’s not going to do anything for us.”
In a game in which the momentum went back and forth, the Spartans were always able to stay one step ahead of the Panthers.
They were able to do so because of a handful of huge plays, including one with just 20 seconds remaining in the first half.
About one minute earlier, Greendale quarterback Josh Ringelberg had fired a laser to a wide- open Cody Kmetz for a 26-yard touchdown. Frankie Rutkowski kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.
After the kickoff, East took over at its own 36 but moved downfield with the help of a defensive holding call on Greendale that put the ball at the Panthers’ 43-yard line.
Running back Zach Schober rambled six yards to the 37 and after two incomplete passes by quarterback Zach Damico, East faced a 4th-and-4. Schober took a handoff, headed to his left, found an opening and sprinted down the sideline the rest of the way for a touchdown. Connor Allen’s extra point put East up 14-7 with 11 seconds left in the half.
“That was a counter to the outside,” said Schober, who finished with 158 yards rushing and three scores. “Basically, what we wanted to do is just get a first down, get 10, 15 yards or so, get our kicker into field goal range and try to put at least three points on the board.
“I broke in the clear, and why did I do that? It’s because our offensive line created a big hole for me. That was huge, putting us up by a touchdown at the end of the half.”
On its second series of the second half, East drove 65 yards in five plays, with Schober running 36 yards to the Greendale 12, then tallying from six yards. Allen’s point after made it 21-7 with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
Just when it looked like East might be taking control, however, the Panthers answered with a 58-yard, 11-play march on which Ringelberg ran six times for 32 yards, including a two-yard score. Rutkowski hit the extra point to bring Greendale within 21-14 with 59 seconds left in the third.
Early in the fourth, after Greendale opted for a quick kick by Ringelberg on 3rd-and-18, the Spartans took the ball on their own 18.
They had worked their way to the 33 when they made another crucial big play. Alec James, the standout defensive lineman, came in at running back, took the ball and bolted 67 yards down the left sideline for a score, making it 28-14 with 9:46 remaining in the game.
“We don’t use him much on offense because he is so valuable on defense,” Swittel said. “Schober was gassed, and when we asked (James) if he could play on offense, he said he had been waiting for the chance.”
When Greendale was forced to punt on its next possession, it appeared again as if East was in fine shape. The punt, however, was fumbled, and Greendale’s Zack Henderson recovered at the East 45.
Ringelberg completed 4-of-4 passes for 42 yards on the ensuing drive, including back-to-back strikes to Kmetz and a seven-yard scoring toss to Mitchell Brees, cutting it to 28-21 with 4:43 still left.
East’s Damico then threw his first interception of the season to give Greendale the ball at its own 34 with 2:14 remaining in the game.
Ringelberg moved the Panthers to the East 49 but then threw too low for Kmetz on third down. His fourth-down pass just missed Brees at about the 20, enabling the Spartans to survive.
Damico collected 60 yards on the ground and 70 through the air, with Brian Smith and Kyle Wirtz combining for 10 catches.
For Greendale, Ringelberg totaled 70 yards rushing and 98 passing, with Kmetz catching six balls for 66 yards. Jake Zywicki added 89 yards rushing. For the second straight season, East ended Greendale’s year in the playoffs.
“They’re a talented team,” Stoltz said. “They have a boatload of seniors who put them in position to make plays, and they make them.”
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