RACINE — Words were difficult to come by for those who just contributed toward one of the most impressive performances by a Racine County high school football team in recent memory, but perhaps Brian Fletcher said it best Friday night.
“This was a state championship on a local level for us,” the Horlick coach said.
Was it ever. The Rebels, excelling in all facets of the game on a warm, misty night at Horlick Field, defeated Franklin 21-7 in a Southeast Conference showdown between undefeated teams.
Quarterback Sawyer Schick threw a clutch 30-yard touchdown pass just before halftime to Derrick Seay on fourth and 17 to give the Rebels a 14-0 halftime lead and Joe Garcia ran for two long touchdowns.
But more than anything, what stood out was a Horlick defense. One year after allowing 346 yards in a 35-13 loss to Franklin, it was a totally different story Friday. Huge plays were made in bunches, from Seay’s game-sealing interception to Nate Ramsey and Caleb Stulo defending passes near the end zone to big sacks by Jager Clark, Kenny Blackmon and Stephon Chapman.
How impressive was this defense? One year ago, Franklin quarterback Max Alba completed 17 of 24 passes for 259 yards and four touchdowns. This time, he was 12 for 31 for 107 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.
“We have a bunch of guys who are undersized, but they just have hearts of gold,” Fletcher said after Horlick improved to 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the SEC. “They’re dogs. They just want to fight. Those guys just flew around tonight and made plays.”
When asked what defensive players jumped out at him with their performances, Fletcher responded, “Too many to mention.”
Horlick’s victory is notable for a number of reasons. With a victory over Indian Trail at Kenosha in the regular-season finale next Friday, Horlick will win its first Southeast Conference championship under Fletcher, who took over the program in 2010.
The Rebels are 8-0 for the first time since 1981. If they defeat Indian Trail, they will complete their first undefeated regular season since 1976, when they went on to play in the first public schools state championship game in Wisconsin. They will almost certainly move into the top 10 of the Associated Press state poll among large schools after knocking off second-ranked Franklin. And it was Horlick’s first victory over Franklin since 2008.
“I can’t even explain this,” Seay said. “We have a lot of returning people and we knew we had the chemistry to go out there and win these games. I just don’t know what to say.”
What did this victory mean to Schick? He is seldom asked to pass in Horlick’s run-based offense, but produces in such a big way when called upon — like Friday night.
“This is a very big win,” Schick said. “We were working all offseason for this. It’s just one step, though. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Horlick took that first step early in the second quarter after an initial heartbreak. Garcia returned a punt 70 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was nullified by an illegal block in the back. But three plays later, Garcia got around the left end, turned on his speed and ran 42 yards for a touchdown.
With 32 seconds left in the first half, Schick delivered one of the biggest plays in the game. On that fourth-and-17 play, he rolled to his right and found Samarion Beadles in the right corner of the end zone.
At that point, it started to appear that Horlick might actually pull this off.
Franklin (7-1, 6-1 SEC) certainly did its part on defense. The Rebels, who average 390 rushing yards per game and more than 10 yards per rushing attempt, were held to 194 yards on 46 attempts — an average of 4.2 yards per rush.
It’s just that Franklin couldn’t get anything going offensively.
“I give them a lot of credit,” said Franklin coach Louis Brown, whose team lost for the first time since Kimberly beat the Sabers in last year’s Division 1 state championship game. “They made some big plays. The big touchdown right before halftime hurt us — fourth and 17, you can’t give that up — and they obviously have some special players who made some special runs.
“I thought for the most part, we held them in check. They just broke off a couple of big runs and that made the difference. I thought our defense actually played them pretty well considering what they’ve done all year. But we’ve got to get our offense figured out.”
Horlick’s offense, bolstered by the return of center Nick Nelson, the offensive line leader who had missed two games with a knee injury, came through with another play in the third quarter. Garcia appeared stacked up, but then broke outside and broke several tackles en route to a 31-yard touchdown run.
Garcia finished with 130 yards on 20 carries.
Franklin came at Horlick with everything it had as time wound down, including a successful onside kick, but nothing could hold back the Rebels on this night.
“What’s going through my mind right now?” Garcia said, repeating the question. “Nothing, honestly. I’m speechless at this point. We played a fantastic game, our defense showed up big, our offense executed and we just came out to win.”