BELOIT—When Mark Anderson was inducted into the Wisconsin Coaches Hall of Fame in 2013, he shared war stories over a few beers with fellow inductee Joe Koch, the former head coach at Oak Creek.
“He said to me, ‘Mark, I figure your team cost us three state titles,’” the former Beloit Memorial football coach said. “I said, ‘How’s that? We only beat you once.’ He said we may not have beat them the other two times, but they were so sore afterward they couldn’t practice until the following Wednesday.”
The Purple Knights lost to Oak Creek in the WIAA playoffs twice, 42-36 in a 1997 semifinal shootout at Janesville’s Monterey Stadium in John Heineke’s final game, and 22-7 in Beloit the following year with Anderson at the helm in the quarterfinals.
Then came 1999 and Beloit prevailed at Jacobson Field, 14-0, in a semifinal game in which it was clearly the underdog. Doing so left the Purple Knights sore, sure, but Anderson said the real hangover was in terms of emotion.
“When you win a game like that it really takes a lot out of you,” he said. “The following week I thought we were the better team, but we didn’t have the same intensity we had against Oak Creek (in a 21-0 loss to Homestead played in Waukesha).”
That victory over Oak Creek was not only Beloit’s last in the playoffs, it was also one of it’s best ever.
In the preseason, Anderson took his team to Camp Douglas for a weeklong bootcamp. He really thought he had a special team, but then a series of bad breaks and injuries left the Knights at 2-4.
“There were some real flukey things that happened to us to get us there,” he said.
People who wrote them off were in for a surprise as an outstanding senior class turned a wayward season into a thing of beauty. The Knights righted themselves and went on to clinch a playoff berth by winning their Big Eight finale, 16-0, at Sun Prairie. The Cardinals would also reach the state semifinals that season.
Beloit rolled over West Allis Central, 29-0, and Milwaukee Tech, 21-0, to set up a third straight playoff showdown with Oak Creek.
On paper, it looked like a mismatch. Undefeated and ranked No. 1, Oak Creek’s 87-man roster included 21 players over 240 pounds and 20 measuring 6-foot-3 or taller. Running back Jamaal Butler, who had busted a 79-yarder against the Knights in 1998, had 1,944 yards and 30 touchdowns in his previous 11 games. Oak Creek had outscored foes 482-60 and was coming off a 55-7 romp at Racine Horlick.
At least the Knights had the home-field advantage, even if it was a bit disgusting earlier in the week.
“We had flocks of geese that kept landing on the field and the surface was covered in goose (excrement),” Anderson said. “We had to hire a guy who essentially vacuumed it up. But it left the field like it had been skinned, with the grass cut extremely short. It was a fast track anyway.”
Anderson said he was asked at a luncheon a few days before the game how he thought his team would do against powerful Oak Creek.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure we’re going to win, but we’re going to punch them in the mouth.”
Not literally, but Beloit wasn’t going to shy away from playing its usual smash-mouth football.
“We had a whole lot of blue-collar kids on that team,” Anderson said. “Darius (Jones) would go on to play at the UW, but on this team, he was just one of the guys. There was some brutal hitting that went on in that game.”
All that hard-hitting action translated into a nightmarish night of turnovers for the visitors as they lost eight fumbles.
“Our defense had a great game,” Anderson said. “They were really geared up.”
Beloit held Oak Creek to 229 total yards. Trevor Voit and Kelly Miller each had a pair of fumble recoveries, but they sure weren’t alone. Kevin Chapman (4 solos, 10 assisted tackles), Jon Klein (3 solos, 7 assists), Jones (2 solos, 7 assists) and Cory Bricco (3 solos, 4 assists) were all in double figures in tackle points.
“This is by far the best we have ever played,” said all-conference defensive end Jeremy Quackenbush, who had a quarterback sack and five tackles. “We wanted Oak Creek. We wanted them bad. We needed everything we had to stop them and we finally did it. Maybe it’s just our time.”
Oak Creek’s first fumble set up Beloit’s first score. Jon Wincapaw received a fumbled punt at the Oak Creek 11. Jones caught a 10-yard pass from John Sabaka to set up his own 1-yard TD dive on the final play of the second quarter. Thad Jacobson booted the PAT. Jones finished with 115 yards rushing on 21 carries and also had two solo tackles and seven assists.
The Beloit defense kept stacking up Oak Creek. When an interception gave the visitors the ball at the Beloit 36, they couldn’t even manage a first down. Chapman and Fanio Rodriguez stopped quarterback Chase McCulloch short of the first down marker on a fourth-down play.
After a Beloit punt pinned Oak Creek at its 9-yard-line, Miller recovered a fumble by Butler at the 13. Three plays later, Tamaris Relerford burst outside for 6 yards and the Knights’ second score. Jacobson made it 14-0 with a minute left in the third quarter.
Oak Creek’s next three possessions all ended in fumbles, the last by McCulloch at the Beloit 10 with just over 2 minutes remaining. Miller fell on it and the Knights went on to victory.
“We were as good as anybody during that three-year stretch there,” Anderson said.
The Knights posted an overall record of 29-9 during that terrific span.