Sussex Hamilton senior Bret Harvestine doesn't throw, catch or run for the football team. And sometimes, the all-conference soccer player can't fit football practice into his schedule. But he did enough on Friday night to put the Chargers into the playoffs.
Harvestine's 29-yard boot with 2 seconds left gave Hamilton a thrilling 24-21 win over host Brookfield Central (6-2, 4-2 Greater Metro) and clinched a postseason berth for the Chargers (5-3, 4-2) with only Wauwatosa East left on the regular season schedule.
As the Chargers moved closer to field goal range in the waning seconds, all eyes shifted to Harvestine.
"Teammates are coming up to me like, 'Bret you might have to do this thing,'" Harvestine said. "I just sat by myself, took a few deep breaths and did what I had to do. That's my third field goal of the year. It's crazy. All I could think was 'Get it through the uprights.'"
He did – right down the middle – and with plenty of room to spare. Harvestine was comfortable from 35 yards out in warm-ups and hit from as deep as 42 yards deep in practice just days ago.
"We felt we had to get to the 15, and we got to the 12," Hamilton head coach John Damato said. "Bret's a great kid. He shares time with soccer, but he practices enough with us and makes it a priority because he cares."
To set up the dramatic finish, Hamilton relied on a familiar force. Workhouse running back Drew Patterson came through on a critical 8-yard burst on the second-to-last play of the game.
"I was hoping he'd get a big one there," Damato said. "He took about a couple of guys with him on his back, and that's just what he does."
Patterson was a consistent thorn for Central and showed no signs of late-season fatigue, bad ankle or not. He rushed 32 times for 183 yards.
"I'm actually feeling really good," Patterson said. "This is the best I've felt all year, surprisingly. The ankle's been up and down. My PT guy said it would be like that. The offensive line did an amazing job for me tonight. I felt like it was the best push we've had all year."
The push was needed as the Chargers fought from behind early on. The Lancers, playing without running back Demario Harris, drew first blood on a 39-yard touchdown pass down the middle from Riley Richarz to Matt Liewen.
But the Chargers responded with a steady drive that consisted of 11-, 18- and 12-yard runs from Patterson, who tied the game on a 7-yard scamper. Patterson capped another long drive in the second quarter with a 2-yard score to put Sussex up 14-7 with 1:54 left in the half.
"The bottom line going in was that we wanted to make sure we had sustained drives and we didn't want to turn the ball over," Damato said of a first half in, in which Hamilton posted strong yardage but also two fumbles. "We turned it over too much, but our scoring drives were sustained drives."
But Richarz orchestrated the two-minute offense to perfection, driving the Lancers 65 yards in 1:30 and hitting Liewen again in the left corner of the end zone for a 10-yard game-tying touchdown.
Central regained a 21-14 lead on a 13-play drive to open the second half, capped by a 7-yard run from junior running back Matt Patterson. Hamilton appeared poised to tie the game yet again when a drive stalled inside the 20. On 4th and 8 from the 15, Hamilton's Tyler Davis appeared to be stopped well short of the first on a rush to the left, but a costly facemask extended the drive. Two plays later, Isaiah Webb scored on a 7-yard run to tie the game at 21.
The fourth quarter turned defensive as both teams struggled to move the chains, but it would be the Chargers defense that came up with the momentum swing. With less than two minutes to play, on 1st and 10 from their own 44, the Lancers took a chance on a receiver reverse pass.
The gamble proved costly for Central, as Drew Peterson's pass floated, giving Hamilton ample time to get under it. Senior linebacker Sean Coady came down with the interception off a tip.
"I'll be honest, I wasn't even thinking about the play selection," Damato said. "I knew they were going to pass, I'm sure they rep that play a lot and feel confident in it. We got some good pressure on it and flushed him out, and he ended up throwing it up there."
With 1:18 on the clock, Hamilton drove 36 yards to set up Harvestine's heroics.
It was the second tough-luck loss for Central, whose only other defeat came in Menomonee Falls in overtime. The Lancers were one week removed from a remarkable last-minute win over Marquette, one that handed the Hilltoppers their first loss of the season and pulled Central into a first-place tie with Marquette and Falls.
"It's a tough way to lose a game," Central coach Jamie Meulemans said. "I'm very proud of the way our kids fought but that's football sometimes and football has life lessons."
Central has clinched a playoff berth and ends the regular season at West Allis Hale next week.
"This is what we needed," Patterson said. "It's a big win to get our confidence rolling for playoff time. We've got one more huge conference game and then we get to see what we can do."
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