For years, Whitefish Bay's Jim Tietjen has been a defense-first, hard-nosed type of football coach.
He had to be, because traditionally low turnout for the program at Bay made it tough to diversify the offense to the point where it could be on par with his excellent defensive units, which have helped get the Blue Dukes into the WIAA state playoffs for five straight years.
But because of the offensive shortcomings, the Blue Dukes usually bowed out gamely in the first or second round of the playoffs, never reaching the third round or beyond.
That was until Saturday afternoon, when a young Bay team unleashed a potent, high-powered, multi-faceted attack that utterly devastated host Brookfield East, as the Blue Dukes rolled into Level 3 of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs for the first time in school history with a stunning 40-21 win.
"I finally have an offense," Tietjen roared after his team racked up 467 total yards and scored on its first seven possessions in improving to 7-4 on the season.
Leading the way was junior quarterback Grant Menard, who at times has struggled this season, but who completed seven of 14 passes this day for 146 yards and two TDs, including a game-clinching 20-yard, fourth-down strike to classmate Jackson Weber with 8:16 remaining.
"Expectations were low for this team this season because we were so young," Menard said, noting that the team has only six seniors. "It took time, but we've come out and shown what we can do."
The Blue Dukes still have much to show, as they will host Waterford (10-1) this coming Friday or Saturday.
"The kids prepared so well for this," Tietjen. "We would have played on Wednesday if they had let us. We wanted to go at the walk-through this morning."
"But the point is, is that this team is no longer young. We've played a full season, and we've come a long ways."
Offensive tackle Will Shanley, who was among the key reasons why the Blue Dukes were able to move so effectively and easily on the Spartans (7-4), took it a step further.
"We've been working so hard all season," he said, "and now it's really started to come together in the playoffs. The guys gave so much effort in practice this week. It's that kind of effort that has helped us become one of the best teams in Bay history."
There are Blue Duke old-timers who may argue that point, but this Bay squad certainly gets bonus points for timing its moment of peak play.
On a gorgeous late October mid-afternoon, it began on the first series as the Blue Dukes pounded the ball 79 yards in nine plays. Menard hit Weber with a beautiful 35-yard pass down the middle of the field to set things up and four plays later, Rashadeem Gray went around end for seven yards and a score at the 8:09 mark.
That little inside sweep play was one that the Spartans could never contain, as Gray went for 183 yards on 24 carries.
"The outside was open all day," said Gray, "and that's largely due to the offensive line. They opened up a lot of holes and I hit them as hard as I could."
But the Spartans were back in it just a moment later, as Mike Amato took the kickoff near the left sideline and evaded several tacklers all the way to a 90-yard TD return and a 7-7 tie.
However, that would be East's high point of the day. Bay did not panic, marching 56 yards on the ensuing drive before settling for a 26-yard Colin Downing field goal with 4:27 left in the first quarter.
The Blue Dukes would never be headed again.
Bay cemented its advantage a series later, when Jeremiah Holt picked off a Bryce Pompos pass at the East 48. Six plays later, Weber made a great catch in the far corner of the end zone of a 13-yard Menard pass.
It was 17-7 not even a minute into the second quarter, and Bay was just getting started.
A powerhouse 14-play, 72-yard drive was finished when Deontae Brown plowed over from a yard out. Brown had seven carries for a tough 28 yards on the march en route to a 25-carry, 88-yard day.
Bay finished the half on a high note, as it took advantage of a short punt and went 39 yards in just six plays as Gray again found the edge for the final four yards with just 28 seconds left in the second quarter.
It was 30-7 at the half.
East coach Tom Swittel was stunned, as his was a team that had hung its hat on defense all season.
"I was really surprised at how poorly we played on defense all day," he said. "It was like we had prepared all week for a team with a wishbone offense and then they came out in a Wing-t. ...Every time we needed a three and out, it didn't happen. Every time we needed a stop, we didn't get it.
"We had played well on defense all year. I guess I was expecting a little more."
Bay ran off an imposing 45 plays for 294 yards in the first half to the Spartans' meager 15 plays for just 11 yards.
East did regain a bit of its pride with a tough-minded 16-play, 76-yard TD march to start the second half as Pompos hit Brian Smith a six-yard TD pass.
After a Downing 27-yard field goal made it 33-14, the Spartans gained another badly needed lift as Amato took another kickoff, this one in the middle of the field and roared 92 yards untouched for yet another TD.
That score made it 30-21 with still 10:54 left to play.
It took the Blue Dukes just four plays to extinquish all remaining East hope, as Gray exploded around the edge for 44 yards on the first play of the sequence and three plays later, Menard hit a wide-open Weber for the game-clincher.
"It's taken me awhile (to feel confident in myself)," said Menard, "but confidence starts in practice and Coach (Greg) Lehman (the offensive coordinator) believed in me, and Coach Tietjen belived in me. I also got great help from my receivers all day."
Weber would finish with four catches for 94 yards while Darien Walker had three grabs for 52 yards.
The game officially ended a series later, when Blue Dukes defensive back Jordan Johnson picked off another Pompos pass at the Bay 19.
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