Highlanders' defense prevails in conference showdown
Homestead hangs on after 7-0 halftime lead against Bay
Down two linebackers to begin with, then a defensive back in the second half, Homestead defensive coordinator Fritz Rauch was looking for somebody - anybody - to step up Friday night as the Highlanders were nursing a tenuous 7-0 second half lead over Whitefish Bay.
As it turned out, he did find some people - many people, in fact - as the Highlanders held Bay to just 29 yards and one first down in the second half and made that score hold up as Homestead (5-0 in North Shore and 7-0 overall), secured the undisputed lead in the North Shore Conference over the visiting Blue Dukes (4-1, 5-2).
"In the first half, we had our problems on first and second downs despite the fact that we knew what they were going to do," Rauch said. "But we seemed to come up with stops on fourth down, and that's what I always use as a defining point for a defense. How do they respond in big moments?
"I look for a team to rise up in such situations and this one did."
High on Rauch's list was Adam Schwalbach, who filled in at a linebacker's spot made short by injuries to Jason Willms and Kurt Kaufmann. There also was defensive end John Laihinen, who moved all over the line so the Bay defense could not key on him and defensive linemen like Ryan Greve and Colt Leitner-Thompson, who made critical stop after critical stop.
The secondary also received great help from Doug Mueller, until he was knocked out of the game with a second-half injury.
Keel likes what he sees
In the effort, head coach Dave Keel saw something that looked both familiar and pleasing: a championship feeling.
"We had no three and outs in the first half and then they only got what? One first down in the second half," he said. "That rivals the effort against Arrowhead last year (in the 13-11 state title game win). Just a great showing by our defensive staff (Rauch, Tom Fugate and Steve Manor)."
All told, the Blue Dukes were held to 137 total yards and only got inside the Homestead 40 twice. Andrew Debbink closed the final threat with an interception of a deep Cal Ehrke pass on the last play of the game.
The effort made the game's only touchdown stand up. It was a beautiful 29-yard first-quarter pass from Matt Stern to Mike Collins, who looked the ball in over his shoulder into his hands perfectly despite blanket coverage from a Bay defender.
"We worked on that play all week," said Collins. "Matt just put it up nice and soft and all I had to do was make the catch . . . We put in a lot of extra effort this week, because we knew that Bay was a team that we could not sleep on. They were a good team and we were pumped up to play them tonight. It was all you could really ask for in a homecoming game."
Defense stands out
Bay frustrated Homestead defensively, too, holding the Highlanders to just 75 yards on the ground and 240 total. But Stern and Cody Berger combined for 14 of 22 passing for 165 yards with no interceptions for Homestead.
"We have to be ready for anything," said receiver Coy Smith, who had seven catches for 56 yards. "We knew that they'd (the Blue Dukes) would key on the run really hard, so we (in the passing game) were ready and willing to make a play anytime one was needed."
But it was the Highlanders defense's ability to make plays right up until the end that frustrated Blue Dukes coach Jim Tietjen and his team.
"We thought we could make something happen right up until the end," Tietjen said. "There was no need to hold them (the Highlanders) up as an example to our team. We knew what we were getting into. They were the number one team in the area (and the state) for a reason, but we didn't give an inch."
"And there is no mistake about Homestead being number one, either. We just thought it would be our night."
Homestead turns back Bay
Stretch run coming for both teams
UP NEXT: Friday, Port Washington (2-3, 3-4) at Homestead (5-0, 7-0) and Whitefish Bay (4-1, 5-2) at Cedarburg (4-1, 6-1), both at 7 p.m. On Wednesday, Homestead at Germantown and Milwaukee Lutheran at Bay, also at 7 p.m. to end the regular season. Homestead will be trying to secure its ninth straight NSC title while the Blue Dukes will look to ready themselves for a strong WIAA playoff run.
BAY-HOMESTEAD NOTES: *The Blue Dukes were also dealing with injuries as fullback Deontaye Brown didn't suit up and defensive end Elric Erving was knocked out in the first quarter. *Homestead running back Bryan Bronaugh, who had dominated in previous games, found it tough sledding against the Blue Dukes, with just 13 yards on 13 carries. Bay safety Brian Kroll and lineman Garrett Demuth wreaked havoc on the Highlander run game. *Homestead received inspiration from a halftime visit from many members of the 1999 state championship team, which was honored Friday night.
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