Last year when the Whitefish Bay football team advanced into the third round of the WIAA state playoffs for the first time in school history, they lingered long on the Brookfield East field celebrating the feat.
And when the Blue Dukes did it again on Saturday afternoon back at Lubar Stadium beating Brookfield Central, 28-3, with an impressive second half effort, they quickly broke their post-game huddle and celebrated with their home fans,
So, en masse, the players went over to the stands, and serenaded the remaining die-hards on the crisp late afternoon with an acappella rendition of Bay's alma mater.
And they weren't half bad.
"We knew we had something special going with this senior class heading into this year," said quarterback Grant Menard, whose 40-yard pass to fellow senior Ian Buchanan set up Jeremiah Holt's 10-yard run for score that broke open a 7-3 Blue Duke lead late in the third quarter.
"And we knew that if we wanted to be special we would have to win games like this and we did. It came down to having heart. We're not the biggest or the strongest, but we do have heart. The defense got a big goal-line stop (late in the first half that preserved the 7-3 lead) and then Ian makes that huge catch."
"This is such a great feeling and we really want it to continue."
The North Shore co-champs (9-1) will get that chance, as they get a playoff rematch with Greater Metro champ Brookfield East (10-0), the team that they beat last season to advance into the third round of the playoffs. That game will be played at East either next Friday or Saturday.
And that fact is making coach Jim Tietjen start to think big.
"We're still in one game at a time mode," he said, "but it is time, we start looking ahead (to East). We've accomplished everyone of our goals and we'll get more of them thinking one game at a time."
And there was a lot of thinking going on in today's occasionally odd game.
Bay went into the half with a 7-3 lead, courtesy of Rashadeem Gray's 19-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second quarter. It was the first play after the Blue Dukes had recovered a Lancer fumble.
Central had earned an initial 3-0 lead on a grinding, 23-play drive to open the game that lasted 8:22. Steven Knopp then closed it out with a 24-yard fiield goal.
The Lancers would threaten again, but never find paydirt.
Bay threatened to open the game up on its next possession, as Gray popped open runs 28 and 19 yards, respectively, and the Blue Dukes earned a first down on the Lancer 17. But Central defensive back Terry Wallen stripped a Bay back of the ball on the Central 12, stopping the Bay threat.
Then it was the Bay's defense turn to make a difference. The Lancers (6-4) then turned around and marched down the field to a first and goal on the Bay seven. Quarterback Riley Richarz, who would bedevil the Blue Dukes with 97 yards rushing in the first half, set up that first and goal with a 21-yard scramble plus a facemask penalty on the Blue Dukes.
But two inside running plays and one wide shot left Central with a fourth and goal at the two. That's when Central coach Jamie Meulemans rolled the dice. He tried an option play with Richarz, one that had worked well earlier in the half but Blue Dukes defensive back Jackson Weber and a host of friends tossed him back for a one-yard loss.
"It was like the Homestead game, where they got a first down on the three and we held them," said Weber. "We just didn't panic."
The Bay defense had to step up again on the last series of the half, as the offense could not move out of the shadow of its own goal-line after the big stop. A subsequent short punt left the Lancers back on the Blue Duke 22 with 1:49 left in the half.
After the Lancers got a first and goal at the Bay nine, they turned into their own worst enemies as a pair of holding penalties and an offensive pass interference call pushed them into a fourth and goal from the Bay 43.
Richarz's desperation pass was well off the mark as the half ended.
The Blue Duke defense would build on those stops as it headed into the second half.
And after six combined series netted both teams no first downs in the third quarter, the Blue Duke offense finally caught up with the defense.
It came courtesy of Menard and the little-used Buchanan.
"We have a great end in Darrein Walker (who caught a 42-yard pass in the first half), so Ian doesn't see too many balls," said outside linebacker Jeremiah Holt, "but he's a great program guy who works hard in practice and he stepped up when needed."
Yes he did, as he skillfully cradled the diving sideline throw from Menard at the 10-yard line.
Then it was Holt's turn to step it up. The Central defense was crashing hard on the Blue Dukes' all-world running back Gray, but with senior fullback Julian Posey out for the season with a broken wrist suffered in last week's win over Shorewood/Messmer, the offense was looking hard for a back-up threat.
Holt entered the fray with an assertive 10-yard run for score that made it 14-3 with 1:16 left in the third quarter. Holt would finish with 43 yards on four carries.
"I loved it when they called my name," said Holt. "Anything to help my team. We're a band of brothers."
The defense, which would allow only two Lancer first downs in the second half, stepped up again, as Weber stepped in front of Richarz's attempted slant pass for a pick at the Central 43.
Three plays later, Gray, who ran assertively for 140 yards on 19 carries despite all the defensive attention, skipped his way along the left sideline for 26 yards and a backbreaking TD at the 11:42 mark of the fourth quarter.
Bay finished things off on its next possession with its most concerted drive of the second half, going 58 yards in nine pays as Menard hit Weber with a two-yard TD pass with 5:50 to go.
The Blue Duke defense earned a game ball with its effort. It allowed 185 yards on 44 plays with 11 first downs in the first half but only 40 yards and two first downs on 25 plays in the second.
"It was huge getting those stops (late in the first half)," said Weber, "but in the second half, we just came out with better intensity."
"We made some adjustments and then everything they (the Lancers) did became a lot easier to read," added Holt.
"We just went away from blitzes and dropped more people back in coverage," said Tietjen. And that maneuver made life a lot more difficult for Richarz as after his big first half, he was styimed to the tune of minus two yards on nine carries.
"We were working so hard trying to make adjustments and then we finally stopped them," said Tietjen. "Then the offense exploded (in the second half) and that made life a lot easier on everyone."
And now a hard task awaits the Blue Dukes with the game at East, one that will test the Blue Dukes character and heart.
"We'll stay with the philosophy of one game at a time," said Holt, "and we'll keep our blinders on."
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