Brookfield Central took a roundabout way to get what it wanted, and now the Lancers' fate is squarely in their hands.
Central beat Marquette, 42-38, on Friday at Central, in game a that they almost blew. Now the Lancers must beat Sussex Hamilton (3-2, 4-3) on Friday at home and then finish the season at West Allis Hale (1-4, 1-6) and at the very least, a share of the Greater Metro Conference is theirs.
Marquette (4-1, 5-2) and Menomonee Falls (4-1, 6-1) are also in the battle for the GMC crown.
Falls finishes up with home games against Brookfield East (3-2, 4-3) and Marquette the final two weeks. The Hilltoppers play West Allis Hale (0-5, 0-7) at home and then finish at Falls.
Almost a comeback
Leading 35-10 with 1:06 left in the first half on Friday, the Lancers saw Marquette take advantage of several Central mistakes as quarterback Charlie Greif put on an air show with more than 300 yards in the second half.
When Mike Thompson caught his second touchdown pass of the game to take a 38-35 lead (Greif ran in a two-point conversion) with 1 minute, 59 seconds left to play, it looked like the Lancers' chances to at least share the league crown were over.
Central quarterback Riley Richarz had a tipped interception and a fumble that led to Hilltoppers scoring two touchdowns late in the game. So when he took the Lancers out to the 26-yard line on what was to be their final drive with 1:29 left to play, he had a lot on his mind.
"I messed up with the interception and the fumble," he said. "But there was no better feeling than going to the sideline where my coaches, my offense, the linemen, receivers, the defense, everybody came up to me and said, 'You're going to come down and win the game on the last possession.'"
With the crowd on both sides of the field screaming, Richarz drove the Lancers 74 yards on eight plays, including the night's two biggest.
Richarz hit Matt Liewen down the left side for 34 yards, as Liewen made a remarkable catch taking the ball to the Marquette 40.
"When I saw basically everyone went deep, I saw Matt on the left," Richarz said. "Beforehand, he told me if I threw him the ball, he would catch it. I had faith in him, that's for sure."
Then on a third-and-14, Richarz went back to pass, and Luke Rasmussen and his offensive line buddies gave him plenty of time. He lofted the ball into a spot in the left corner of the end zone and Terry Wallen fought off two Marquette defenders to come down with the winning touchdown with 22 seconds left.
Richarz said that he and Wallen have practiced that play.
"He told me 'If you ever have the chance in the ballgame when the time is right, throw the ball up and I will catch it.' I knew if I got it there to Terry — and those balls weren't looking good today — but if I got it there, I knew he was going to catch it. Right when I saw him go up, I knew he had it."
Wallen made it sound simple.
"Coach told Riley to just throw it up and have me try and make a play on it," he said. "Riley made a good throw on it."
Saved from loss
The touchdown saved the Lancers from an embarrassing loss, as they dominated Marquette going in the final quarter.
But the talented Greif led the Hilltoppers back in the final period, as they went on a 28-0 run.
First he scored on a 1-yard run following a Richarz interception at 10:51. Then he tossed a 21-yard scoring pass to Jerad Swan, who raced into the end zone to cut the lead to 35-24 with 7:24 to play.
Finally, after a Richarz fumble, Greif tossed a 35-yard score to Jake Matkovitch, who made a great catch, with 5:57 left in the game.
Finally Greif put on an excellent drive, going 60 yards in 10 plays, hitting Thompson with the go-ahead TD to end a stretch of 28 unanswered points.
Greif finished 34-of-49 for 396 yards and 4 scores, as the Lancers stuffed the Hilltoppers running game. Greif also booted a 40-yard field.
Richarz for 4-for-9 for 100 yards and rushed for two scores, and DeMario Harris rushed for 156 yards and three scores and played a tough defense at linebacker, until he had to leave the game in the second half with an injury.
When asked about the comeback after blowing a 25-point lead, Meulemans credited his team's makeup.
"The make up of our team, our senior leadership, our chemistry, those are some things you can't control," he said. "But our juniors, they're fighters, too."
Wallen talked about the big play, as he went from one interview to another on the field afterward.
"Our defense blew it. I'm a cornerback, I'm a leader on defense," he said. "We blew it in the fourth quarter. We can't do that. But we got through it and made the playoffs. It's all nice."
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