When Brookfield East looks back on the season, its 29-23 loss to Marquette on Friday in the Greater Metro Conference opener could be the one that cost them a playoff berth.
If the Spartans play against Sussex Hamilton, Brookfield Central and Menomonee Falls like they did in the second half against the Hilltoppers, if will be difficult to compete let alone win those games.
The Spartans blew a 16-point lead on Friday at home as the Hilltoppers' size eventually wore them down.
"Our inexperience showed, as did our lack of size," East coach Tom Swittel said. "They wore us out. They were just so much bigger than we were. It just wasn't meant to be I guess."
No second-half answer
After the Spartans led 16-0, Marquette's offense came to life and outscored East the rest of the way, 29-7. The only second-half score came when Vince Schimborski blocked a field goal attempt and an alert Mitch Mikulsky picked the ball up and raced 86 yards for the score with 1:03 left in the third period for a 23-14 lead.
"It was cosmetic surgery there because at that point, we were so being totally outplayed," Swittel said. "It was a blip on the radar screen, that one play."
Swittel was right, as the Hilltoppers went out and scored twice while going through the defense like a knife through butter.
Marquette quarterback Charlie Greif tossed a 56-yard touchdown to Mike Thompson on the final play of the third quarter to cut the score to 23-21.
Then the Hilltoppers scored the game-winner when Greif hit Jack Barbera on a 38-yard TD pass. The Spartans' defense put up little resistance.
Fumbling away game
The game ended with the Spartans on the Marquette 22, only to fumble away the football in the final seconds.
The Spartans failed to score from the 2-yard line to start the game and then all-conference kicker Connor Allen missed the chip-shot field goal.
But then quarterback Zach Damico opened the scoring with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Will Sutton with 3:05 left in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead. Allen, who missed a short field goal on the opening drive, then missed the extra point.
After East took a 6-0 lead, Damico fumbled the ball back to Marquette on the Hilltoppers' 40.
But in the second period, Damico scored on a 4-yard TD run and defensive back Brad Carstens intercepted Greif to set up Allen, who booted a 28-yard field goal for a 16-0 lead.
But then it was all downhill for the Spartans offense.
Later lineman Tim Beilfuss recovered a Jerard Swan fumble, but East's Gerald Childs fumbled the ball back with 1:49 to play in the half.
Greif hit Thompson for a 9-yard touchdown score with nine seconds left in the half and you could feel the momentum shift.
Greif then opened the second half with a 15-play, 80-yard drive, finally scoring on a 3-yard run with 8:08 left in the quarter to cut the score to 16-14.
On that drive, Mikulsky intercepted a deflected pass, but the Spartans were called for pass interference, keeping the Hilltoppers drive alive.
Damico will probably be seeing Marquette defensive lineman Conor Sheehy in his dreams this week, as the 6-foot 4-inch, 270 pounder terrorized the Spartans all night.
"We lost the game in the first half," Swittel said. "We had so many opportunities in the first half, it's unbelievable. We didn't take advantage of it."
But Swittel gave the Hilltoppers their due.
"There's no excuses. They outplayed us. They deserved to win. We didn't deserve to win. You can't play as sloppy as we played and win a football game. In some respects, we got what we deserved."
Greif was 15-for-31 for 294 yards and three scores, and Jerard Swan ran for 118 yards. Thompson caught six passes for 129 yards and two scores. Damico ran for 131 yards and Sutton caught seven for 123 yards.
One of the preseason favorites, Sussex Hamilton (2-1, 1-0), is next up at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at East.
"We ain't gong to get any bigger," Swittel said. "We're just going to have to find a way."
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