With the Brookfield East offense struggling to gain traction, Justin Parbs provided the spark that opened up the field.
The junior's 40-yard touchdown run on the opening possession of the third quarter began a dominant second half by the Spartans in a 27-3 win over upstart Menomonee Falls in Level 2 WIAA Division 2 playoff game on Oct. 28.
"We knew we had our hands full," East coach Ben Farley said. "Arguably, Menomonee Falls was playing the best football in the state of Wisconsin.
"Justin absolutely gave us a spark. That was a huge run, keeping his feet inbounds and tight-roping the sidelines. It was a big play for us. Whenever you are struggling, you are looking for that momentum play. Justin stepped up."
The Spartans ended the Indians' remarkable closing run to the season that saw them upset unbeaten Brookfield Central and Menasha squads in back-to-back weeks. Falls closed at 5-6 overall, while East (9-2) will move on to a WIAA Level 3 playoff game against rival Brookfield Central (10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4.
Falls, which upset Central to qualify for the playoffs and then took down second-seeded Menasha in Level 1 of the playoffs, began the game with a bang, as senior Cameron Jemison returned the opening kickoff 82 yards to the 12-yard line of the Spartans.
But the Indians (5-6) couldn't punch the ball into the end zone, settling only for a 22-yard field goal by junior Michael Burgoyne.
"We had our backs against the wall," East junior linebacker Brad Dati said. "We knew we had to get a stop and hold them to three, and that's what we did. If we don't get that stop, they would have had the lead at the half. It was needed. It was just a huge stop for us."
That would prove to be the high point of the evening for the Indians.
Parbs took the ensuing kickoff to the Menomonee Falls' 47-yard line, and the Spartans drove to the 9 before tying the game on a 26-yard field goal by junior Cam Bauer. After the Spartans' defense forced a three-and-out, Brookfield East took over at the Menomonee Falls 33. Unable to capitalize on the short field, Bauer connected again, this time from 36 yards to make it 6-3.
Brookfield East's defense held Menomonee Falls to just 45 yards in the first half. The Spartans picked up right where they left off after halftime, as the Indians moved the ball just 36 yards on 18 plays in the second half.
East had little success running 2015 Now Newspapers Player of the Year Sam Santiago-Lloyd up the middle in the first half. The Indians held the senior running back to just 54 yards on 15 carries in the first half, with 20 of those yards coming on one run.
Parbs takes off
But then Parbs provided the spark the Spartans needed at the start of the third quarter. With East up 6-3, Parbs took a jet sweep up the sideline for the first touchdown of the game.
"We come out saying we were going to work on the perimeter (in the second half)," Parbs said. "They called it on the first drive. I bounced it right outside, broke a tackle and started running."
The one play opened things up for Santiago-Lloyd and senior quarterback Jake Graf, as East ran for 248 yards on its four second-half possessions.
On the next drive, Graf faked the jet sweep to Parbs and kept the ball up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown run that put Brookfield East up 20-3 with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
The Spartans used a 10-play, 73-yard drive to put the game away with 9:44 to play on a 9-yard touchdown run by Santiago-Lloyd.
Santiago-Lloyd accumulated 111 of his 177 yards in his second half, while Graf ran 11 times for 82 yards after halftime.
"In the second half, we played like the team we actually can be," Santiago-Lloyd said. "We played up to our potential. It worked well."
Although there was a sense of disappointment any team has immediately after its season ends, there was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment surrounding Falls, as the Indians entered having won three consecutive elimination games, including two over state-ranked teams.
Starting safety Logan Heckman suffered a separated shoulder in the first half, which hurt the Indians' ability to slow the Spartans.
"I feel good," Falls coach Dan Lutz said. "We lost, but I still feel good inside because I know the kids gave everything they had. They exceeded expectations big time, and I'm proud of them for that.
"We just kind of ran out of gas a little bit."