They still have to change in the trailers and the tents by flashlight after games and they're still a week away from using their lockers, but the members of the Nicolet football team made themselves right at home Friday night, as they battled injuries, execution problems and inconvenience in dominating Wauwatosa East, 9-0.
"We just did what we could do," said quarterback Brandon Kappel, who threw a perfect 21-yard TD pass to Alex Walker with just four seconds in the first half and then added a clinching 41-yard field goal with less than six minutes to go. "It's football. We all did this and it just felt good. The line did the job and everyone stepped up. We could have scored a lot more points, but this is still special."
Indeed it was in the eyes of first-year coach Brian Sommers in the first official school-sanctioned event on the grounds since the July 22 floods.
"The kids are getting tired of life in a trailer," he said. "It's starting to wear on them. They want to get back into a routine. Maybe this'll start a routine of winning (laughs). Now that would be something fun to get into (laughs)."
And at that moment, an unknown assistant clapped him on the shoulder and said as he ran by: "The first of many more to come coach. Just the first."
The win evened the Knights record at 1-1 and ended an eight-game losing streak dating back to last season, while the game Red Raiders, who were short several players due to a variety of reasons, most of them injury, fell to 0-2.
First-year East coach Jake Wolter was proud of the effort of his team, especially the defense, which turned back many Knight forays into East territory.
"They really made an effort tonight," he said. "It was so much different than last week (a bad loss to Cudahy). We had the ball only 14 minutes, so the defense was on the field, I don't know how long (34 minutes to be precise), but it was too long, but they played every snap. The effort was amazing."
As was the effort of the Nicolet defense, which stymied the Red Raiders completely. The Knight defenders held them to just 27 yards on 31 plays with just two first downs, none in the second half.
The only time East got into Knight territory came after Kappel's field goal made it 9-0. Kappel, who could not play quarterback for much of the second half due to a dislocated thumb, could still kick and could still make a play, which would prove to be a good thing.
East return man D. J. Greenhill got a head of steam up on the kickoff after the field goal, and was in the clear, save for Kappel, who made a perfect form tackle at the Knight 47. If not for that play, Greenhill would have scored easily.
And from there the Knights made their last stop of the evening, as coordinator James Becker's unit pushed the Red Raiders back five yards in four plays with Bryce Bowen and Jonathan McKay smothering East back Jumaane Brady for a seven-yard loss on a fourth down screen pass.
Sommers who had been yelling for a big play by his defense just before fourth down, got what he wanted.
"They (the defense) just had every angle covered," Sommers said. "They put a lot of pressure on and they're the reason we won the game. They just wreaked havoc."
"We had to be careful, because they came out in a different formation (at the start of the game) than we saw (on film)," said Knight senior defensive tackle Jevell Rollins, "but we learned from it pretty quick and after that, it became pretty easy (to stop them)."
That was a good thing, because the Knight offense, already without Kappel most of the night and also without star back Nick Corley (ankle), had a frustrating evening. They gained 283 yards and racked up 15 first downs, but out of six possessions where they started on the Red Raider side of the 50, they came away with only three points.
"Our ineffiency was just killing us," said Sommers. "We need to be able to play with more urgency and intensity at all times."
Or like they did in the final 49 seconds of the first half, where they started with their worst field position of the night at their own 17, but still came away with a breathtaking result.
Kappel, who had suffered his injury earlier in the half, ran an option for eight yards and then threw a perfect 37-yard yard deep out pattern to Denzel Allen. After a motion penalty, he started to go to the talented junior end Walker. First for four yards and then for 24.
After a questionable grounding call on an attempted spike, Kappel then rolled out and threw a nice spiral to the front left corner of the end zone. Walker used all of his 6-4 height to outleap the East defender and complete a pretty 21-yard touchdown play with just four seconds left in the half.
"I thought it was a good throw," Kappel said. "I knew he (Walker) could make a play on it."
"There wasn't much we could do about it," Wolter said. "The kid just went up and got the ball."
And that prove to be enough for Nicolet.
Daniel Torres would have 68 yards on 13 rushes to lead the offense, while Jordan Griffin had 65 yards on 20 carries and Kappel 44 on six attempts.
All of which helped the Knights feel right at home on this cool and windy night.
"Because school doesn't start for so long (Sept. 13)," said Rollins, "we get a little extra advantage in practice. We just try that much harder."
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