When talking about the dominating effort he and his offensive line mates did in leading the Homestead football team to a shockingly easy 42-7 win over normally difficult Whitefish Bay Thursday night, two-year starter Mensah Amuzu noted that the team wanted to avoid the drama and excitement of the previous Friday's rally over Milwaukee Lutheran.
Upon hearing that, his quarterback Cody Berger kicked at the dirt, chuckled and said: "Absolutely" breaking both of the senior leaders up in a rare moment of levity as the Highlanders (6-0, 7-1) clinched no worse than a tie for their 11th straight North Shore Conference title.
They will look to win their ninth straight outright championship when they visit arrchrival Germantown next Thursday. The Warhawks (4-2, 6-2) were 28-12 winners over Nicolet on Thursday night.
"We now get to finish the job," said Berger, who had a career night with 12 of 17 passing for 212 yards and two touchdowns. "We started it, now we have to go out and get it done."
"We've got to do it."
And the Highlanders got everything done that they started Thursday night as they worked without star multi-purpose back Jay Schneider (knee injury), but instead relied heavily on Berger and the offensive line to rack up over 430 total yards and more importantly, score on their first six possessions.
Homestead would convert on all eight of its third downs in the first half, including all four on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 7:37 of the first quarter and resulted in Berger hitting Jabree Washington on a out pass that went for 19 yards and a touchdown.
"When I looked up at the clock and saw that there was only 4:23 left in the first quarter, I just said to myself "That's my kind of drive," said veteran Highlander coach Dave Keel.
Berger established himself on that drive by going four of six for 57 yards. He established the great connection he would have all night with Stephen Sheperd (five catches for 101 yards and a TD), by hitting him for 18 yards and a first down on that sequence.
"I wasn't sure how much we were going to throw tonight," said Berger, "but the coaches looked at the film and saw that they were a bit vulnerable so we took advantage. I just felt very comfortable back there all night."
After the defense stopped Bay (3-3, 4-4), the Highlanders got even more comfortable, going 69 yards in nine plays as Berger hit two passes for 41 yards and then bruising fullback Antoine Easterling (20 carries for 123 yards) bulled his way over for a one-yard TD score and a 14-0 lead just two minutes into the second quarter.
The Blue Dukes threatened to make a game of it on the next sequence, going 76 yards in a shockingly quick three plays as Rashadeem Gray scored on a 47-yard end around just 1:03 later to make it 14-7. Gray finished with 85 yards on nine carries and Julian Posey rushed for 63 yards, also on nine carries.
But Bay's defense could not get off the field. Homestead took the next possession and went 70 yards in 10 plays with Berger selling an amazing play fake and running an option left in from 22 yards out for a 21-7 lead with 4:03 left in the half.
Berger completed two passes for 24 yards on the drive, but it was the effort of Easterling (four carries for 26 yards) that defined the march. His final 13 yards on a second and long situation, came on a churning, tackle-breaking effort that brought the Homestead crowd to its feet.
Keel said that kind of tenacity was part and parcel of the high-level execution the team had all night.
"When you do what we did tonight, it's everybody doing their job," he said. "By the line, by the quarterback and by the receivers. No one blew a block, no one dropped a pass, and Cody himself had a great game. He threw the ball very well.'
And the half closed out on a vintage Homestead drive, as it clipped 71 yards down the field in just 1:55 with Shaquille Cole taking it in for the final three yards with just 11 seconds remaining in the half.
The signature play on the march was a 22-yard deep out pass by Berger (three catches for 52 yards) to Jake Laihinen on which Laihinen made a great adjustment, turning his body towards the ball at the very last second.
The catch gave the Highlanders a first and goal at the Bay five.
"That was a fantastic grab," said Berger. "Losing Jay (Schneider) last week was a huge loss, but everybody stepped up and helped out. Steve had a big game, Jake had a big game. It all worked out."
The 28-7 lead was more than Homestead needed as it added two second-half TDs on a two-yard Washington run for score and a brilliant 24-yard deep out toss by Berger to Sheperd for the final TD of the game.
Amuzu took pride in the offense's unstoppable nature this night.
"We've been working really hard in practice, coming together and getting the job done," he said. "We're showing real progress and we know we have each other's back on every play."
"Focus, that's the big thing. Focus. We work on that everyday all week."
Keel is happy for the group too.
"The line is really starting to get there," he said. "Coach (Matt) Wolf never lost confidence in them. They're making real progress."
Just like the Highlanders are towards another conference title.
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