Though they didn't know it at the time, the splendid Homestead offensive connection of quarterback Cody Berger and halfback Jay Schneider got some help in making Friday a most splendid night for the Highlander football team.
The pair connected on four critical passes for 121 yards, including Schneider's impressive end zone takeaway from Bulldogs defensive back Joe Zuba for the clinching 28-yard touchdown with 3:04 remaining.
Homestead later learned it was now all alone at the top of the North Shore mountain because rival Germantown had smashed unbeaten Milwaukee Lutheran, 56-35.
"I think this may have been our best game of the season," said Highlanders coach Dave Keel. "We had a little rhythm right from the get go The kids played hard on both sides of the ball and we got some nice special teams play."
"....This is definitely something that we can build off of. To win here, during their homecoming with this kind of great stmosphere was really special."
With the win, the Highlanders improved to 4-0 in the North Shore (5-1 overall) and took a major step towards their 11th straight league title. Cedarburg fell to 3-1 and 4-2, respectively, while Lutheran is now 3-1, and 5-1.
A major reason why Homestead is now in this position is that Berger, a three-year senior starter, and Schneider, a junior making his first major impact on the varsity.
"I really wanted to work with him this summer, because I knew that he would be a big part of the offense," said Berger, referring to Schneider's tremendous spring as part of state-level sprint relays for the Highlanders track team.
The result has been Schneider turning into a human highlight reel every week, with explosive runs, deep catches and devastating kick returns.
"I've gained a lot of confidence these last few weeks," said Schneider. "At the start of the season, I didn't know how much I would be used. I didn't know how it would work out, but I just got more and more comfortable with the offense and Cody and I started working together better."
That much was evident on the Highlanders third sequence of the night early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs had just tied the score on a 14-yard TD pass from Joey LePak to Zach Hetzel, and Homestead needed to get momentum back quickly.
Enter Berger and Schneider.
They connected on a 43-yard strike up the sideline on the first play of the possession, and two plays later, another strike went for 14 and a first and goal on the four. A play later, fullback Antoine Easterling (19 carries for 105 yards) bulled his way in from four yards out and Homestead had the lead for good at 14-7.
Two plays later, the Highlanders all but sealed the game, as sophomore defensive lineman Brandon Hines recovered a Cedarburg fumble on the Bulldogs 33. Five plays later, Berger hit Schneider for 18 yards and a first down on the Cedarburg 12.
Before anyone could stop and notice, Easterling exploded up the middle 12 yards untouched for a 21-7 lead.
Cedarburg was not going to go away, however, grinding out a 13-play, 68-yard drive and scoring on LePak's one-yard sneak with just 48 seconds left in the half to make it 21-14 going into the break.
Cedarburg drove to the Homestead 42 early in the second half, but Bulldogs running back Kyle Hoffmann (26 carries for 119 yards) was pushed back for a loss of eight by a swarm of defenders headed up by Homestead senior defensive lineman Benji Wichman
The very next play, junior defensive back Riley Pelisek intercepted a deep corner pass.
Seven plays later, Homestead went up two scores for good, as Berger and Schneider keyed the 82-yard drive with a 33-yard connection to the Cedarburg 33. Three plays later, sophomore tailback Shaquille Cole again took advantage of a big hole up the middle for 22 yards and a TD with just 2:45 remaining in the third.
Offensive line coach Matt Wolf, whose group paved the way for a 353-yard night for the Highlanders offense, couldn't help but get excited.
And when pointed out that some years the Highlanders defense is dominant and in other years it just seems to do enough to get the job done, defensive line coach Tom Fugate could only laugh and say: "You noticed that."
After Homestead turned the Bulldogs over on downs on their own 32-yard line in the game's twilight moments, Berger and Schneider took their final bows. Berger launched a deep pass towards the left front corner of the Bulldogs end zone.
Schneider stole an almost certain interception from Zuba, coming down inbounds for a touchdown and insurmountable 34-14 lead.
"All I can say is that I went up and got it," said Schneider.
To which, Berger laughed, punched his star receiver in the shoulder and said: "No man, you saved me."
But then Berger got serious.
"We had a lot of questions going in," he said, "and this was going to be a big game, a tough game being their homecoming and everything. We worked hard the whole week. Does this win mean a lot to us? Absolutely."
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