Brookfield East defensive end Alec James came up big down the stretch, but it was a 5-foot, 11 inch, 160-pound quarterback who stole the show Friday night.
The Spartans earned a hard-fought 21-7 victory over a tough Menomonee Falls squad at East, in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.
Junior quarterback Zach Damico took the Spartans 62 yards with less than two minutes to play, scoring the final touchdown on a beautiful 18-yard run. He raced down the left sideline and then cut back to the middle of the field and fought his way into the end zone for the clinching score.
Damico also tossed two touchdown passes - a 39-yarder to Griffin Lynch for the game's first score with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left in the first quarter and a 26-yarder to Brian Smith with 10 seconds left in the first half.
He was also East's leading rusher with 108 yards and he completed 9-of-13 passes for 154 yards.
East coach Tom Swittel is excited about his quarterback, who started on the JV last year.
"He's given us an element that we didn't have last year," Swittel said. "He's got the ability to run the option and to run the football. I was most impressed by him at the end of the half when we scored with 10 seconds after getting the ball with 48 seconds to go.
"That was our 1 minute drill, something we practice every single day. It worked tonight. I was impressed with what he did. He calls all the plays on that. That doesn't come in from the sidelines.
"Then that final drive that he scored on; again he was a lead ball carrier on that drive."
Falls had a chance to get on the board early, thanks to a 47-yard punt return by Cole Hernicki, giving the Indians the ball on the 14-yard line. But three plays later, quarterback Adam Vechart fumbled and East's Cal Durni recovered.
"We squandered opportunities early on," Falls coach John Baker said. "I'm very proud of our players; they played extremely hard. We had some turnovers, some things that happened, but it's all a team effort and I'm extremely proud of our players."
The Indians finally got on the scoreboard with 11:50 left in the first half when running back Christian Almonte had a brilliant run down the left sideline, making not one, but two big cuts through the Spartans secondary for a 20-yard score.
"Offensively, you saw (Almonte) he's a quick back, a really tough kid," Baker said. "Our offensive line, we challenged them to be tough and they came out and they did."
Cornerback Brian Smith, the star of the Spartans basketball team, intercepted Vechart twice in the second quarter. He also caught six passes for 98 yards.
Then there was James, the state's top defensive linemen who will be attending the University of Wisconsin next year. James sacked Vechart in the second quarter to stop a drive and then came up with two key sacks in the fourth quarter and had one hurry.
"Our defense has been solid for most of the year," Swittel said. "Falls had us on the run. But when they got near our goal line we toughened up. The name of the game is to keep them out of the end zone, and we've been able to do that."
Falls' defense was also outstanding led by senior linebacker Brian Schmit, who was able to time the blitz several times to tackle East running backs in the end zone.
"Smitty is really a special kid," Baker said. "He's quick; he has great timing on the blitz. I'm extremely proud of him. He's really a solid linebacker, and he's really having a nice season."
"We knew Falls was going to be a very tough team; maybe the best team we've played this year," Damico said. "We knew they'd be gunning for us like we did for them last year (East won, 21-0). We had to execute better than we did last year and we did that."
Swittel agreed with his quarterback.
"We did not underestimate Falls whatsoever," he said. "They are a good football team. They have a ton of talent and they're well-coached. And the game showed that."
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