With only three games left in this shortest of Southeast Conference regular seasons, the Indian Trail football team can’t afford to dwell on a poor performance.
The Hawks probably don’t want to remember Friday night, anyway.
Other than finally getting to play, not much went right for Indian Trail in an ugly 13-0 shutout loss to Oak Creek at Jaskwhich Stadium, as the Hawks submarined the debut to a highly anticipated season by turning the ball over three times and committing nine penalties for 102 yards.
Indian Trail opened with two strong drives, but one stalled when the Hawks couldn’t convert a fourth-and-1 from the Oak Creek 25-yard line and the other halted when senior quarterback Argjent Ismaili couldn’t handle a snap on third-and-goal from the 5 and the Knights recovered.
Indian Trail’s defense kept the Hawks in the game, but two long second-quarter drives of 93 and 55 yards proved plenty for Oak Creek.
“That was a good Oak Creek team,” said Indian Trail coach Paul Hoffman, whose team’s road doesn’t get any easier with a Week 2 trip to Franklin. “They dominated time of possession. When you’re shooting yourself in the foot offensively and you don’t get many chances to get it back, it makes it tough.”
What made the Knights’ performance more impressive was that they were playing with a freshman quarterback, a freshman left tackle and a freshman middle linebacker, which would usually spell defeat in the SEC.
That wasn’t the case Friday.
“I respect this team (Indian Trail) beyond compare,” said Oak Creek coach Joel Paar, whose team returned the favor from a shutout loss to the Hawks last season. “I think the coach is outstanding, I think that they play with passion and fire. And I think what happened a little bit today is our guys handled that passion and maybe didn’t lose their mental focus when they were getting so intense.
“And it’s who we have to be. We’re not talented enough to lose our mind.”
Indian Trail couldn’t say the same.
The Hawks kept getting behind the chains with penalties. They did rush for 153 yards on 25 attempts, but 42 of those came on a weaving run by senior Ezra Stargell late the fourth quarter with the Hawks in desperation mode.
Ismaili rarely had time to throw, and Oak Creek did an exceptional job against Indian Trail’s talent-laden senior receiving trio of Clayton Bishop (three catches, 20 yards), Kameron Lee (two catches, 16 yards) and Raymone Jones (three catches, 54 yards).
Ismaili finished 9-of-23 for 93 yards with two interceptions.
“Our defensive backfield played wonderful today against some of the best talent there is in the state, along with their quarterback,” Paar said.
Oak Creek, meanwhile, had to thrust freshman Cade Palkowski under center after senior incumbent Jasin Sinani decided to leave the team at the start of camp when he was offered a basketball scholarship to UW-Milwaukee.
Palkowski, a slippery left-hander, rushed 23 times for 99 times and a score, often out of the option. He also threw for 57 yards on 7-of-16 passing and avoided any big mistakes. Palkowksi’s ball control helped Oak Creek run 26 out of the game’s 30 offensive plays at one point between the first and second quarters.
Still, the Hawks came out with a promising start after trailing 13-0 at halftime. Senior linebacker Dylan Connell delivered a massive hit on junior running back Danny McNeive on the first possession of the second half to electrify the Indian Trail sideline, then the Hawks got the ball and marched to a first-and-10 at the Oak Creek 17.
But an intentional grounding penalty stalled the drive, and senior defensive back Craesean Slaton picked off Ismaili on a fourth-down desperation pass. An illegal block wrecked the Hawks’ next drive, and on the one after that Slaton made an acrobatic break-up on Ismaili’s deep post pass to Lee, which might have gone for a long touchdown.
After the game, Hoffman was understandably disappointed and said it was hard at the moment to appreciate the fact that his team simply got to play football. But he said after some time to reflect, he’s sure he’ll recognize how significant it was to be on the field.