Making the WIAA playoffs has become an expectation for Oak Creek football. The Knights have been to each of the past four postseasons, but in the final week of the 2016 regular season, the Knights found themselves in a win-or-go-home situation on the road against Kenosha Indian Trail on Oct. 14.
Trailing 28-21 with 1:58 remaining in the game, Oak Creek had one last shot to win. After recovering an Indian Trail fumble at their own 48-yard line, the Knights moved the ball down the field and scored a touchdown on a 7-yard carry by Matiss Sika with 42.8 seconds remaining.
Instead of going for the tie, Oak Creek head coach Mike Bartholomew decided to attempt the 2-point conversion. Quarterback Jakup Sinani took a quick three-step drop and tossed the ball to the back right corner of the end zone, connecting with receiver Ryan Harvey-Turner and giving the Knights a 29-28 lead.
Indian Trail’s last second effort to pull off a miracle was unsuccessful, and Oak Creek escaped with a 29-28 victory to keep its season alive.
“I told the kids how important it is to be playoff eligible, because we have a chart with playoff appearances, and it’s important to keep that streak going,” Bartholomew said. “I felt all year we were a good football team, and we played like that in spots. Indian Trail is a very good football team. This is their homecoming. This is one of the bigger wins in our program.”
After scoring the touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the game, there was no question that Oak Creek (6-3, 4-3) was going for two, Sinani said.
“Good teams have to come back,” Sinani said. “Good teams have to battle adversity. When we scored, I ran to coach and told him we are going for two. I believe in my wide receivers and they believe in me. I knew we were going to get that.”
Oak Creek jumped out to a quick lead in the game. On the fourth play of the opening drive, running back Elijah Robinson found an opening and scampered into the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown run.
That was Oak Creek’s lone score in the first half, as the Knights struggled with penalties and execution. Indian Trail’s offense wasn’t much better, but the Hawks (5-4, 4-3) took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
“It is a battle, but we are the only ones who stopped ourselves,” Sinani said. “We would make a good play, then we’d have a penalty. There’s not much you can do with that.”
Disappointed his offense only scored once in the first two quarters, Bartholomew made it clear at halftime what he expected of his team in the second half.
“I told them at half we have 24 minutes left in the game,” Bartholomew said. “I said, ‘Hey, leave nothing to doubt here. Let it go. Have fun. If we lose, you are going to get yelled at regardless, so just play and have fun.’ Our kids competed in the second half.”
The Knights came out and forced the Hawks to punt on the first drive of the second half. But a fumble five plays into Oak Creek’s drive gave the ball right back to Indian Trail, who scored just two plays later on a 35-yard TD pass, talking a 21-7 lead with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
Oak Creek responded with a score of its own on a 7-yard TD pass from Sinani to Thomas Wojnowski with 4:46 remaining in the third to pull within seven points of Indian Trail.
The Hawks came back and tacked on, scoring another touchdown. But once again Oak Creek didn’t give in. Sinani tallied his second TD pass of the night, finding Harvey-Turner open for an 11-yard score to trail the Hawks, 28-21, with 11 minutes left.
After Indian Trail decided to go for it on 4th and 2 from Oak Creek’s 6-yard line and was unsuccessful, the Knights took over on downs. Oak Creek moved down the field on numerous completed passes by Sinani. But on its own 48-yard line, Indian Trail’s defense sacked Sinani, and he fumbled the ball.
Indian Trail recovered the loose ball. But then on the next play, the Hawks fumbled the ball right back to Oak Creek, which turned into the Knights game-winning drive.
Sinani stepped up for Oak Creek when they needed the senior QB most, finishing with 250 passing yards and two passing TDs to clinch the program’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
“It’s unbelievable,” Sinani said. “Words can’t describe it. Goal No. 1 is done – we are in the playoffs. We are a good team, and we think we can beat anyone we want.”