Friday’s matchup between Homestead and Waterford was pegged as a game to keep an eye on. It didn’t disappoint, as the Highlanders dropped a 17-15 thriller to the visiting Wolverines, with a last-second field goal giving the Highlanders their first regular-season loss in five years.
Homestead senior running back DeAngelo Dantzler scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:24 left in the game to pull the Highlanders within one. Homestead lined up for a game-tying extra point, but senior quarterback Cody Berger, also the holder, scrambled left on a fake and converted a 2-point attempt to give his team a 15-14 lead.
Waterford’s defense appeared prepared for the fake, but Berger beat the defense to the left corner of the end zone.
“I thought they would line up and go for two,” Waterford head coach Adam Bakken said. “I wasn’t surprised they went for it, but I was surprised by how they did it.
“We thought we might catch them napping,” Homestead head coach Dave Keel said. “Sure enough, it worked. Cody did a heck of a job getting the ball in the end zone.”
But the Wolverines bit back. Senior quarterback Zach Fisher led Waterford to Homestead’s 19-yard line after completing passes of 29 and 11 yards on consecutive plays. Fisher’s arm set up a 36-yard field goal attempt for senior kicker Nick Wirsching.
Wirsching drilled a beautiful kick through the middle to put Waterford up 17-15 with 6 seconds left. Homestead couldn’t muster a miracle in the closing seconds and fell to 1-1 on the season. Waterford improved to 2-0.
“I don’t have words for how it felt to make that kick,” Wirsching said. “The person I have to thank the most is my dad. He’s always pushing me to work hard. We’ve been practicing those kicks for four or five years.”
Wirsching had a 39-yard attempt blocked in the third quarter, but he said his confidence wasn’t shaken.
“We switched a few blockers in,” he said. “But I was just trying not to get too excited. There were some nerves but nothing too bad. I was just trying to keep calm.”
Bakken credited his quarterback’s late-game composure for setting up the dramatic finish. Fisher completed 11 of 14 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown.
“I don’t think a sophomore or junior quarterback stays calm like that and makes those throws,” he said. “Zach didn’t panic, and I thought he showed some great leadership.”
Both teams exchanged punts on their opening drives, but Waterford drew first blood with a nine-play, 96-yard touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead.
Homestead responded promptly, scoring on the second play of its next drive on a 55-yard run from senior running back Antoine Easterling.
The Wolverines again drove downfield methodically, marching 71 yards in nine plays to take a 14-7 lead on senior running back Dylan Dessart’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Both offenses struggled from there, but Homestead’s two red zone turnovers would prove to be the difference. An interception in the end zone and a fumble inside Waterford’s 10-yard line forced Homestead to play from behind most of the night.
“The turnovers did it,” Keel said. “If you make mistakes like that against a team this good, they’re going to hurt. Waterford has a great team. It was an exciting game, it came right down to the end, and our kids kept fighting.”
Easterling posted a game-high 125 yards on 15 carries, 30 of which came on Homestead’s final scoring drive. The loss is Homestead’s second home defeat in the past 10 seasons.
“For a preseason game, the level of play was extremely high,” Keel said. “But it’s the preseason. We will be better because of this.”
The Highlanders open their conference schedule next Friday when they host Nicolet.