There was ice taped below Franklin receiver Ethan Wittenburg's knee and a look of weary satisfaction on his face on Friday night after the Sabers football team secured sole possession of first place in the Southeast Conference with an impressive 30-6 rout of host Kenosha Indian Trail in a win that may have defined the Sabers season.
Because this game was much as about attitude as it was execution.
"It's all about physicality," said Wittenburg, who overpowered the smaller Hawks defenders to the tune of 12 catches for 204 yards. "Coach (Louis Brown) talks about grit all the time. He wants us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable."
That attitude extended over to the defense. Indian Trail had come into the game having scored over 40 points in all four of its previous Southeast contests, but the only time the Hawks crossed midfield was on a perfectly executed 45 yard pass in the third quarter that set up their only touchdown. Powerhouse defensive lineman Hawk Wimmer, who himself has been outside his comfort zone in shoring up the Sabers youthful offensive line, said it was all about the coaching.
"They really put together a great gameplan for us," he said. "They put us in great spots and all we had to do was make plays."
Wimmer benefited upfront by getting back his powerhouse line partner, 2015 All-Suburban selection Latron Kirk-Sprewer, who had missed several games with a knee injury. Kirk-Sprewer made a vast nuisance of himself all night, especially on passing downs.
"It's great having him back," said Wimmer. "I'm more of a run (stopper) guy, and he's more of a pass (rushing) guy, but we really work well together than way."
Whatever the formula is for the Sabers overall, it's working, as they improved to 5-0 in the Southeast race and 6-1 overall while Indian Trail fell to 4-1 and 5-2.
It was an impressive night in the eyes of coach Louis Brown as his team looks to win a fourth straight league championship.
"We lost something like 18 starters last year," he said, "but a lot of young kids are coming into their own and they followed what the older guys did in past years. We've got a very good thing going, and we want to keep it moving in the right direction."
On the damp and misty night, things went right directly from the start, as on the second play from scrimmage, a shotgun snap to the Hawks' quarterback went over his head and into the end zone for a Franklin safety.
The ensuing free kick into the wind was short, and in 10 plays, including one fourth-down conversion, quarterback Max Alba hit Kyle Lewis for 8-yard TD pass, and the Sabers were up, 9-0. They were never seriously challenged after that point.
Brown likes the way his defense came out of the gate.
"We always defer (if Franklin wins the coin toss)," said Brown. "It's something I established when I took over as head coach. I'm sort of a defense-first kind of guy. I know we're known for our offense around here, but I think we're starting to get known for our defense."
The Franklin defense limited the Hawks to just three first-half first downs.
Running back Tanner Dykstra took a 16-yard swing pass from Alba that made it 16-0 with 10:29 left in the half. The Sabers had chances to expand the lead in the first half, but the on-again, off-again mist made execution difficult at times.
The defense all but put the game out of reach early in the third quarter, as another bad shotgun snap was recovered by defensive lineman Jacob Baumgardt at the Indian Trail 1-yard line. Dykstra took it in on the next play for a 23-0 advantage with 6:33 left in the third.
It was very much a statement victory by a team that wasn't expected to say much this season.
"We're starting to get healthy," said Brown. "Our defense did return two great linemen (Wimmer and Kirk-Sprewer), and getting Latron back and getting him active will turn a lot of heads, because this team (Indian Trail) was scoring over 40 a game. To hold them to just 6 says a lot about our defense."
Now the main goal for is to run the table in the Southeast and not share the title with anybody. Homecoming is Oct. 7 against Racine Park.
"Expectations were not as high this year," said Wittenburg. "A lot of people were doubting us early on, but now a lot of people are noticing us."
"Everyone is showing up to play," added Wimmer.