East churns its way to first state championship

All game long, East kept control of the leather football. By the end, the Spartans were clutching the gold one.

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All game long, Brookfield East kept control of the leather football. By the end, the Spartans were clutching the gold one.

A record-setting rushing performance led by Sam Santiago-Lloyd and Jake Graf helped Brookfield East to its first-ever football state championship. The Spartans dominated the time of possession (34:50 to 13:10) and churned out 392 yards on the ground in a 42-36 victory over Monona Grove in the WIAA Division 2 title game Nov. 18 at Camp Randall Stadium.

"We just did what we normally do," Graf said. "Holes broke open. Our offensive line played incredible. We ran all over them."

Monona Grove needed nine plays to navigate 79 yards on its opening drive, taking a 7-0 lead on a 13-yard run by Jackson Thomsen. After Brookfield East was forced to punt on its first drive, Spencer Hampton blocked the kick, and Willie Klein landed on the ball in the end zone to spot the Silver Eagles a 14-0 lead with 7:35 left in the first quarter.

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Sam Santiago-Lloyd puts Brookfield East up 35-21 in the fourth quarter of the WIAA Division 2 state title game with his fourth touchdown of the game Andrew Gruman

"We just weren’t doing our job," first-year Brookfield East coach Ben Farley said. "We had a lot of guys that were a little nervous. The coaches were a little nervous, and the players were a little nervous. It took a little bit to get things going there. Once we settled down, we were pretty good. But that’s a heck of a football team. Offensively, they challenge you in so many ways."

Although they had trailed by two scores just once prior, Brookfield East didn't panic. The Spartans got back into the game with a 10-play, 65-yard drive, cutting the Monona Grove lead to 14-7 on a 6-yard touchdown run by Santiago-Lloyd.

After the Spartans' defense forced quick punt, a 41-yard run by Graf set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Santiago-Lloyd to tie the game at 14-14 with 9:45 left in the first half.

"I just kept telling everybody to stay calm," Graf said. "The coaches were saying to stay calm. We knew although we were down 14-0 that it was so early in the game and that we could come back."

When Monona Grove answered with an 80-yard touchdown bomb to reclaim the lead, East delivered its finest drive of the day, a 17-play, 80-yard marathon that ended in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Graf to Patrick Cartier.

"What a job by our guys to keep their composure and just be solid in everything they did," Farley said. "We tied it right before half, and there we were competing for a state championship in the second half."

Brookfield East took the lead thanks to a Nick Kreul interception setting up a go-ahead score. Santiago-Lloyd's fourth rushing score tied a Division 2 (and all-division) record for rushing touchdowns in a title game and gave his team a two-score lead, though Monona Grove answered with a nine play, 55-yard scoring drive with just 2:34 burned off the clock to pull to within 35-28 with 4:42 to play.

It took East just four plays to punch back and put itself in seemingly safe position.

Santiago-Lloyd had already left a mark as one of the greats at Brookfield East, but he iced his legacy on fourth and 1 with 2:31 to play, when he burst through for a game-clinching 42-yard touchdown that gave him the record for most touchdown runs in a state championship game with five.

"I couldn’t do anything without my offensive line," Santiago-Lloyd said. "I’d be nothing. Shout out to everyone who played their hearts out and left it out on the field.

"I love my offensive line. They always show up to play, and if I don’t, they still show up and we get a couple yards."

After not practicing all week due an injury to his left arch he suffered in Brookfield East's Level 4 win over Menomonie, Santiago-Lloyd finished with 197 rushing yards and the five scores.

"He makes my job so much easier," Graf said. "That one fourth and short, he was stopped in the backfield, and he just threw a kid. He does stuff I only see in the pros. He’s crazy."

As good as Santiago-Lloyd was, Graf also had a big day. No easy task for a defender himself at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Graf ran 25 times for 179 yards, including a crucial 32-yard run on third and 19 late in the fourth quarter.

The state record (all seven divisions) for rushing touchdowns in a title game had been four, with Scott Schreiber of Kimberly (2013) and Leo Musso of Waunakee (2011) holding the Division 2 mark. Santiago-Lloyd's 37 rushing attempts also set the Division 2 title game record previously held by Adam Roach of Menomonie (35 in 1993).

Monona Grove was able to scramble together one last touchdown, a shuffle pass from Alec Ogden to Frankie Langer with 58 seconds on the clock. Collin Larsh, a kicker committed to the University of Wisconsin, lined up for the extra point but then took a designed pitch from the holder for a 2-point conversion that put the pressure on, but Andy Lucas snagged the onside kick for Brookfield East. Monona Grove had one last gasp, a snap from its own 31-yard line with 3 seconds left, but the play turned into a completion and fumble.

Afterward, Farley, who played on Brookfield East's first playoff team in 2002, was quick to credit retired coach Tom Swittel for building the Spartans from a program struggling to make the playoffs to a state champion.

"He built the program here," Farley said. "Each year they took another step and another step ... we lost in the third round last year to a really good Homestead team. You have to get somewhere first before you can win those big games. I think we took a huge turn last year. The dedication and commitment in the offseason has been tremendous."

JR Radcliffe contributed to this story

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Brookfield East recovers a lateral attempt by Monona Grove to clinch the WIAA Division 2 state title Andrew Gruman

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