While victory is certain to bring elation to any coach, often times there is at least something to nitpick about when playing a season opener.
But Homestead coach Dave Keel had nothing to complain about because Friday night’s contest couldn’t have gone any better.
“That was a good start [to the season],” Keel said. “Our kids came ready to play and they played hard. I was real pleased with the way we played offense, the way we played defense and the way we played special teams. The three facets were solid.”
It was the Highlanders’ special teams that set the tone early and often, particularly junior punt returner Jay Schneider.
After forcing the Orioles to a three-and-out on their opening possession, Schneider took the ensuing punt 40 yards to the Hartford 28-yard-line.
Later in the drive, junior running back Jabree Washington scored from 16 yards out to put the Highlanders ahead 14-0 late in the first quarter.
Homestead controlled the first quarter but dominated the second quarter to seal the victory before halftime against a solid Hartford program.
After a Hartford fumble, Homestead waltzed down the field to score again with 11:21 left in the first half -- this time it was senior running back Antoine Easterling scampering in from five yards out.
After setting up two scores already, Schneider figured that he’d put one on the board himself with 10:07 left in the first half, taking a punt 70 yards for a touchdown.
“Dodge and weave,” Schneider said. “I was just following the blockers. I couldn’t do it without them. I just ran left and followed my blockers. It was pretty simple.”
Special teams have been an early focus for the Highlanders, and it was evident Friday.
“We’ve been working hard on that,” Schneider said. “Last year we kind of slacked a bit, so we wanted to pick it up. It has been paying off.”
Easterling put the icing on the cake, turning an Orioles fumble into a 24-yard touchdown run, his second of the day.
With backups in as early as the middle of the second quarter, Homestead took advantage of the running clock for most of the second half.
Hartford got on the board late in the fourth quarter on a 39-yard run by Nick Hahn.
Schneider finished with 210 all-purpose yards, 110 via the return game, 90 receiving and 10 on the ground.
“He caught the ball well, he ran the ball well and of course he had the nice punt returns,” Keel said. “That was nice to see.”
Against the Highlanders’ top defensive unit, Hartford barely mustered any offense and turned the ball over twice.
“They probably had only two or three first downs against our number ones, pleased with how we played there,” Keel said.
Another positive for Keel was the ability for him to get all of his players in to get valuable experience for the rest of the season.
The veteran coach didn’t expect that kind of game to break out against Hartford, a team that is a perennial contender.
“I thought it would be a tighter game because [Hartford] Coach Noenning does a great job,” Keel said. “They are just young. He’ll have them playing really well before it is all said and done.”
After a dominating opening act, the key now is to continue on playing like they did Friday. The Highlanders will host Waterford next Friday.
“It is a great start, now we have to keep rolling,” Schneider said. “We came out here and set the tone, we can’t die off. We have to keep going, all the way.”
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