Homestead lineman Donte' Phillips said he and his fellow defenders knew that they had to have short memories with just nine seconds remaining and the score 21-20 in their favor Wednesday night in what was a whirlwind of a finish against archrival Germantown.
They had to forget that just seconds earlier Warhawk quarterback Josh Mongan had pulled his team to within one when he hit end Ben Holcomb with a perfect 63-yard TD pass in a desperation fourth down situation that seemed to be pulled from the Grantland Rice school of heroic sportswriting.
They had to put from their minds that their 60-plus game North Shore Conference winning streak was on the line and that a perfect regular season could have been done in by the upcoming two-point conversion Germantown was going to attempt.
And toss in the fact that the Warhawks were pulling all the harder for retiring Hall of Fame coach Phil Datka, who was trying to finish off a nine-year personal losing streak to the Highlanders, in this his final crack at Homestead, and you almost had a fairytale-ending to this caffeine-infused Hollywood style script of a game.
But Phillips and Homestead needed their own happy ending too, so when the Warhawks lined up in a bunch formation for the conversion attempt and ran back Sebastian Fischer around the right side, Phillips was there to drag him down two yards from the goal-line to preserve the Highlander victory.
And it was a good thing that he did, because there was no one else in front of Fischer if he hadn't.
"We just have heart," said Phillips, who limped over with a slight leg injury, his uniform muddied and his hand bleeding from the intense combat in the trenches that went on all night long. "We could have let down (after the touchdown), but there's just no quit in us. Whether we're up 21 or down 10, no matter the circumstances, we're going to give you our all."
"I just went out there and did my assignment, because I don't like to lose."
That much was more than evident, in this, the latest installment of the Germantown-Homestead rivalry. One, that in this last decade has begun to resemble a gridiron version of an old dimestore novel: You know how its going to end, you just don't know how its going to get there.
Datka was unstandably very quiet afterward. He put his hands on his knees after Fischer was tackled, resigned to his team's fate.
"Absolutely, it was the only way we were going to do it," he said of going for the two-point conversion. "The entire fourth quarter was just typical of these kids (on his squad). It's how they've competed all year."
Highlander coach Dave Keel was not in the least surprised that the game ended the way it did. Even though the fourth quarter began with a very undramatic 13-0 lead for his team.
"I have to give all the credit to Fritz (defensive coordinator Rauch)," he said concerning that last stop. "He has them prepared and ready to play every snap, especially with everything on the line. What a fitting way to end things. What a fantastic finish."
Just not if you were in Germantown or Datka's shoes.
The win gave the Highlanders a 9-0 regular season record (7-0 in the North Shore) and clinched their 10th straight North Shore Conference title (eighth straight outright), while Germantown finished at 4-3 and 5-4, respectively.
And respect is what Germantown earned in this thrilling road loss.
As noted, the Warhawks were down 13-0 in the fourth quarter, courtesy of a 15-yard run for score by the Highlanders' Antoine Easterling (24 carries for 117 yards) in the first quarter and a chugging, determined 14-yard effort by Tyler Gehrke in the second session.
But the Warhawks fought back in that final period with their best drive of the night, as Fischer finished off a nine-play, 80-yard march with a two-yard burst around left end with 9:55 to go to make the score 13-7. Quarterback Dylan Krivoshein's 24-yard option scamper highlighted the march.
However, Germantown's euphoria was short-lived, as just two plays and 21 seconds later, Homestead quarterback Cody Berger executed a perfect option fake and roared around left end for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Then when Matt Stern completed another fake and ran in the two-point conversion to make it 21-7 with 9:34 remaining, it seemed like the game was over and the story ended. That thought was hammered home to everyone on the chilly, wet night in Mequon a short time later, when Homestead linebacker Andrew Debbink killed a Germantown threat with an interception at the Highlander 23.
The wind was palpably taken out of the Warhawks sails as only 5:38 remained.
But as Keel said: "We kept trying to give the game back to them, though you have to give Germantown a lot of credit for that."
Especially to Germantown senior defensive back Malcolm Bowers, who had a hero's game with two interceptions and a fumble recovery on the evening. He got the latter just two plays after Debbink's interception as the Highlanders were trying to kill the clock, but when a Homestead back had the ball jarred loose at the Highlander 22, Bowers was there to pick it up and scoot to the end zone untouched.
Suddenly the score was 21-14 with 4:50 remaining, and the story suddenly had another intense chapter to be read.
"I can't say enough about the game Malcolm had," said Datka. "He just made play after play."
And he made another one just three plays later, intercepting a Berger pass at the 50-yard line.
But as Phillips said, the Highlanders have heart. They forced a four and out for the Warhawks on the next series including a sack of Mongan by Phillips and Benji Wichman.
That wasn't the end of it though, as the Germantown defense showed character of its own, forcing its third three and out of the half (it would give up only three first downs in the session). The effort cost the Warhawks their last time-out, but they had the ball and a chance 85 yards away with just 1:12 remaining.
Krivoshein hit Cole Reindl for 15 yards and he scrambled for 13 yards on another play (Phillips hustled up to make the tackle there too). When Krivoshein was hit hard on an incompletion two plays later, Mongan came back in with just 35 seconds remaining and the ball on the Germantown 37. Three deep incompletions, none of them really close, followed.
That's when Mongan threw a perfectly paced deep sideline pass and Holcomb, in his only catch of the night, looked the ball in perfectly. He was a good three yards ahead of the nearest Highlander defender and bedlam ensued as he raced towards the end zone with only nine seconds to go.
That's when, however, Phillips made sure that Cinderella's slipper was to be only in the size and the shape of a Highlander cleat.
"The d-line did a great job all night long," said Keel. "There were so many ways we could have ended it, but all that credit for that goes to Germantown. What a game."
"We saw their offense come out (for the two-point conversion)," said Phillips, "and we knew we just had to buckle up and stop it."
Thereby creating a great memory of their own.
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