Brookfield East didn't need the whole week to get over a crushing loss.
After six days – one less than usual thanks to the locally televised Thursday night game – of pondering a blown 16-0 lead and 29-23 Greater Metro Conference loss to Marquette, the Spartans showed they were still very much a team to be reckoned with. A 38-21 win over another traditional GMC power, Sussex Hamilton, put East back on track.
"We got kind of a rough start those first three games and lost a heartbreaker last week," said East quarterback Zach Damico, who ran for 156 yards and accounted for three East touchdowns. "We were just able to put it together in the second half this time and play a complete game. ... Everyone's got games under their belt and we're just gaining trust in each other. We have a bunch of sophomores and a freshman playing with us today. We're gaining confidence and just believed."
With three sophomore offensive linemen leading the way, freshman running back Sam Santiago-Lloyd racked up 95 yards and scored two second-half touchdowns that helped the Spartans distance themselves from the Chargers.
"Our number one running back two weeks ago sprained his ankle on the first play of the game; we played him against Marquette and he was probably about 60 percent," East coach Tom Swittel said of Gerald Childs, who did not carry the ball against Hamilton. "We couldn't even give him the ball. (Santiago-Lloyd) is our next best back."
When Santiago-Lloyd shed tackles on a run up the gut for a 14-yard score with 9:06 to go, the Spartans (2-2 overall, 1-1 in GMC) had a 31-21 lead, and the defense did its part by forcing the Chargers into a 3-and-out on the next series. East didn't convert on the next long drive, but with only 3:20 to play, the Chargers were in the uncomfortable position of needing to pass. East held Hamilton without a yard on the next four plays, and Santiago-Lloyd capped the ensuing drive with another score.
"You have to credit Brookfield East and some of the adjustments they made in the second half," said Hamilton coach John Damato, whose team fell to 2-2 and 1-1 in league play. "They had a key stop in the fourth quarter when we went 3-and-out; after that we kind of sputtered. That was a critical 3-and-out for them. It really hurt our chances.
"This is a tough pill to swallow. This doesn't happen to us too often. We have to regroup here, and we will. I have some great coaches and a bunch of willing kids that want to get better. They don't like to see this either. We have a big test next week against Menomonee Falls."
Hamilton running back Drew Patterson finished with 84 yards on 21 carries, and only six carries for 14 yards in the second half. Patterson had rushed for 429 yards in the first three games of the season.
"Patterson is a great player," East senior defensive lineman Cal Durni said. "But we knew if we hit our assignments, there isn't a running back in the state that can run on our defense. We stayed assignment sound and executed."
Durni was the man on the spot in the first half, when a partially blocked punt by teammate Vince Schimborski came to 6-2, 225-pound lineman, and he returned it to the Hamilton 11.
"I wish I would have kept running hard to the sideline, but I tried to make a guy miss," Durni said.
The subsequent drive ended with 42-yard field goal from Connor Allen, and Zach Damico's short pass to Will Sutton for a touchdown on the next series gave East a 10-0 lead. That play was set up by a 28-yard strike to Dom Freres.
But Hamilton didn't take long to respond, converting on 3rd and 11 from its own 19 and then converting another 3rd and 6 when Mike Barnes passed to Alec McShane over the middle, who finished the play 52 yards later in the end zone after slipping two defenders.
"We felt pretty good about it, too," Damato said of the passing game, seldom a top option in the Hamilton offense. "We felt we needed to mix things up a little bit. They were really loading up the box quite a bit. We can pass the ball. We had a really good drive there in the second quarter and we were going to get the ball back and it hit off our guy's facemask."
After the teams traded scoring drives, with East reclaiming a 17-14 lead on Sutton's second score of the night, East recovered an onside kick. Allen's low liner struck a Hamilton blocker in the helmet and bounced back to East. Allen, who also recovered the fumble, missed a 47-yard field goal wide right shortly before the end of the half.
But East took the first drive of the second half and marched down the field in seven plays, with Damico running it in for a 24-14 lead. Hamilton answered with an 80-yard drive and McShane's second touchdown of the night to make it 24-21, but the Spartans defense only allowed 17 yards on the final three Hamilton series.
"The second half, our defense – other than that one drive – played with a lot of pride and the offense helped them by moving the ball and running the clock," Swittel said.
Last year, the two teams went to overtime, when Brookfield East emerged with a 14-13 victory after the Chargers went for the win with a two-point conversion and came up short. That win enabled the Spartans to finish the regular season with an undefeated regular season, but this year's win might be even more important to a playoff run with Brookfield Central and Menomonee Falls still to come.
"We knew we had to get four wins (in conference) just to make the playoffs," Durni said. "We put ourselves in a great spot to make a great playoff run."
McShane finished with 115 yards rushing on nine carries and 77 yards receiving, with two scores. Teammate Brett Buehler, who dropped a would-be interception that struck him in the breadbasket earlier in the drive, grabbed a pick six plays later to stall an East drive inside the Chargers 10-yard line.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Three Brookfield East football players earn All-Suburban honors
- Rasmussen, Knopp first-team All-Suburban
- Impressive start for Brookfield Central girls basketball
- East girls struggle from the field
- Brookfield Academy: Dec. 5
- Dempsey, LeClaire to lead Brookfield East wrestling team
- Brookfield Stars hockey team wins Sheboygan Tournament
- Brookfield Central boys basketball rolls in Illinois tourney
- Rasmussen named GMC's top O-lineman
- Sydnor named MVP for Brookfield Central boys volleyball