The kids wanted it to be about the old man, and the old man, of course, wanted it to be all about the kids.
But when the final seconds ticked off on the Germantown football team's remarkable 17-10 WIAA Division 1 Level 2 playoff upset of archrival Homestead on Saturday on the Highlanders' home field, retiring Warhawk coach Phil Datka could not contain his emotions.
After 42 years of doing his job to the best of his ability, he knew something special when he saw it.
"I have never been involved in a game where I have been more proud of a team," he said to his sweaty, excited squad in the post-game huddle. "I love you guys.
"...Those last few seconds, all I could feel was gratitude. I just wanted to thank everyone who helped me be in this position.
"I know these kids. I work with them everyday and I know their talent level and what they can do. They really put their hearts into it today."
With the win, the Warhawks (7-4) ended a 10-year losing streak to the Highlanders (10-1) that dates back to September 2000 and avenged a heartbreaking 21-20 defeat at the hands of their North Shore Conference rivals just 10 days ago, also on this same field.
"We all believed that this could happen," said junior cornerback Ben Holcomb, who had two interceptions in the game, including the clincher with just 2 minutes, 40 seconds remaining. "We had to make this happen for coach."
Also with the win, Germantown advanced to a Level 3 game against the winner of Marquette and Manitowoc next Friday or Saturday.
Datka was most proud of the defensive effort of his squad. Holcomb's first interception, on just the third play of the game, set the tone early and set up Alex Gasper's 27-yard field goal with 9:07 left in the first quarter.
The 3-0 advantage was a lead the Warhawks did not relinquish.
Germantown's defense rose again on the next Highlander series. Homestead boldly went for it on a fourth and one from its own 49, but back Antoine Easterling was met by a host of Warhawks and turned back.
"Give credit to Germantown for that," Homestead coach Dave Keel said. "They made the plays and they didn't let us get anything established."
Indeed, as the Highlanders were held to a season low in points and yards (176 total) after coming in averaging 31 points a game.
The Germantown offense made a play two sequences later as quarterback Dylan Krivoshein hit a wide open Jacob Richmond on a pass in the flat and Richmond rumbled in from 47 yards out to make it 10-0 with 1:04 remaining in the first quarter.
But Homestead, which has had a knack of pulling out one close game after another with the Warhawks since 2000, found a way to make it interesting once again. Two series later, the center-quarterback exchange was botched for Germantown and Homestead all-state defensive lineman Donte' Phillips pounced on it on the Warhawk 23.
Three plays later, senior running back Zach Enea dragged tacklers on his back for 17 yards and a TD to make it 10-7 with 7:24 left in the half.
Homestead had one more chance to take the lead before the half, but a fourth-down pass from the Warhawk 38 into the end zone was jarred loose as time expired.
Warhawk defensive backs Cole Reindl and Malcolm Bowers were in on one play after another this day.
The game took an interesting turn at the start of the third quarter. In these past 10 years of wins over Germantown, it has been Homestead that has been able to make the the key adjustment at halftime.
Not this time, as the Warhawks flipped the coin.
They took the second half kickoff and in seven efficient plays, plowed their way 57 yards and into the end zone. Josh Mongan took an option run for 15 yards and running back Sebastian Fischer raced through the middle of the defense for 21 before Alec Richmond took it over from a yard out at the 9:01 mark of the third quarter to make it 17-7.
"The last few years, they've taken that first drive (of the second half) and taken it in on us," Datka said. "For us to go downfield like that was just huge."
"It was a good drive, they made some nice plays," Keel said.
But again, the Highlanders fought back, holding the ball for 14 plays, the longest effort for either team in the game. They covered 54 yards before settling for a 28-yard Matt Stern field goal to make it 17-10 with 3:56 remaining in the third.
However, that would be the last hurrah for the Highlanders' offense. On its final three series of the game, Homestead gained only nine yards on 11 plays with its only two remaining first downs coming on Germantown penalties.
"We needed to take their will away," Holcomb said. "When we took that first drive in (of the second half) we knew we really had our chance."
Included in that defensive stretch was a fourth-down sack of Berger by Joseph Kretlow and David Galginaitis with 4:50 remaining on the Homestead 33.
Germantown, however, could not get the clinching points on the board as Gasper's subsequent 42-yard field goal attempt was just wide of the mark.
After a Warhawk penalty gave the Highlanders a first down on the Homestead 39, Holcomb stepped in front of another Berger pass to start the victory celebration.
That celebration remained muted, however, until six plays later when Mongan burrowed into the line on a sneak for a pivotal first down.
When the officials brought out the chains and the referee thrust his arm forward signaling the first down, the Germantown stands and the sidelines erupted and 10 years of frustration melted away.
"This feels so good," said Galginaitis, a senior linebacker. "Especially after what happened last time (10 days ago). To lose on a two-point conversion just hurt so much. But this feels amazing. Just amazing."
"This is one of the best feelings I've ever had," Datka said. "To accomplish what these kids have done is astounding. To beat these guys on their home field is amazing. The defense just played so well. Dave (defensive coordinator Branske) had a great plan and the kids were just so well-prepared.
"It's another week for me and it might be at home. That would be fun (laughs)."
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Sports wrapups: March 4
- Boys basketball: Hartung provides the complementary ammo for upset
- Sports wrapups: Feb. 25
- Bay cruises to league gymnastics title, Homestead third
- Three Homestead wrestlers advance to state mats
- Bearden's two free throws lift Germantown boys to win in 58-56 thriller
- Sports wrapups: Feb. 18
- Signing day a success big and small all over the North Shore
- Sports wrapups: Feb. 11
- Homestead wrestlers show character in claiming four NSC titles