Brookfield East put safety first
End-zone tackle in final minutes leads to 19-18 victory over Chargers
Perhaps senior wide receiver C.J. Gregg best summed up Friday night's 19-18 victory over pre-season co-favorite Sussex Hamilton at East.
"It's gi-normous," he said, while standing on the field after the game surrounded by fans. "I can't even begin to express it. Some of the coaches have (Sussex Hamilton) winning the conference. We took them out and beat them. We're 3-0 now; the momentum is crazy, everyone is behind us now."
Actually, as bleachers emptied and fans piled on the Spartans in the North end zone, everyone was more on top of them than behind them.
"I have been here four years and I have never seen anything like this," an emotional Gregg said. "And I am so grateful for the coaching staff that has come in and said, 'We're not interested in transition, we winning now.' It's just been great."
It almost didn't happen, given their opponents' late charge.
The Chargers' star running back Aaron Clinton-Earl scored his third touchdown from 2-yards out with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left to play to take an 18-17 lead.
Sophomore Zach Schober returned the kickoff to mid-field and, after a couple short passes from senior quarterback Jonathan Lehman to Gregg, senior wide receiver Aaron Dillon leaped high in the air to grab a 24-yard pass between two Hamilton defenders to give East a first down on the 25-yard line.
But two plays later, Lehman's pass intended for Gregg was off the mark and intercepted at the 1-yard line by Mike Kelty with 1:29 left in the game.
Clinton-Earl ran it out to the 6-yard line on the first play, but he was carried off the field with a shoulder injury on the next play when Nick Tongas, who finished with 15 tackles, knocked him back for a loss.
With the Chargers backed up to the goal line, the Spartans were thinking one thing.
"We're thinking safety," East coach Tom Swittel said. "The blitz is on, we wanted to go through the 'A' gaps, just put pressure on. You just never know if you can get in there, you can disrupt some things. You can cause a fumble. That's what we were thinking. We knew we needed a safety."
On third down, running back Jose Aguirre went wide right and defensive end Luke Furey and safety Nate Mikulsky busted through and tackled him for a safety and a 19-18 lead.
"We were all fired up because we had been coming hard all game," Tongas said. "We knew we could get them back there, especially when their fullback got hurt. No. 36 Clinton-Earl, he's a heck of a runner. He ran hard all night. All three linebackers were blitzing; we told (the ends) 'Watch the outsides.' They tried to toss and our corner crashed down. (Aguirre) didn't have a chance."
Even though the Chargers had to kick off to the Spartans, the game was far from over after Gregg let an on-side kick slip from his grasp, giving Hamilton the ball own their own 30-yard line.
But five plays later, Gregg went up between two Charger receivers and intercepted a pass at midfield to end the game and earn redemption.
"I said 'This is mine.' I knew it right away," he said. "It's my fault they had the ball in the first place, I better do something or I'd never forgive myself. Luckily it worked out. We still got the victory."
Hamilton rushed for 272 yards, 136 coming from Clinton-Earl, but the Spartans defense came up with the big plays when it had to.
"It's been a strength of ours all season," Swittel said. "The fact that we were able to play defense against a team like this really pleases me. Another great game plan by our defensive staff. We've worked hard to learn how to defend the option. I would say, for the most part, we've been able to defend it the first three games."
Schober rushed for 55 yards in 14 carries and Lehman was 13-for-32 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Receivers Gregg (6-for-60, TD), Dillon (2-for-31, TD) and JJ Flor (4-for-48) played key roles in the passing games.
Besides Tongas, Klaus Speder had 11 tackles, Ron Langdon had an interception and Alec James recovered a fumble.
"This game is big for us," said Langdon, who was firing up the crowd since the first time the Spartans ran out on the field in the pre-game. "We shocked the conference. This week, we were ready. We're a better team than last year. We were ready for them, we were ready to shock them."
BY QUARTERS: Sussex Hamilton (6-0-6-6-18), Brookfield East (14-0-3-2-19)
(BE) C.J. Gregg 4-yard pass from Jon Lehman (Zack Schober kick)
(HAM) Aaron Clinton-Earl 25-yard run (kick failed)
(HAM) Aaron Dillon 5-yard pass from Lehman (Schober kick)
(HAM) Clinton-Earl 15-yard Run (run failed)
(BE) Schober 22-yard field goal
(HAM) Clinton-Earl 2-yard run (run failed)
(BE) 1-yard safety (Luke Furey, Nate Mikulsky tackled Jose Aguirre)
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