The Homestead football team's 67-game winning streak in the North Shore Conference is over and it was Germantown that did it.
From the moment senior Warhawk senior running back Alec Richmond slipped through a gapping chasm for 76 yards and a TD on the first play of the game, until the time that Highlander quarterback Cody Berger was slammed to ground at the Germantown four-yard line on the last play of the game preserving the 27-0 shutout, it was clear that there would be no more inspirational miracle finishes, no more fluke plays, no more simple beatdowns for the Highlanders this cool, damp Thursday night.
What a way to get your coaching career going against your alma mater first-year Germantown coach Jake Davis and especially with retired Warhawk coach Phil Datka sitting up in the press box watching.
"It is a great thing, I would by lying if I would say otherwise," said Davis, after addressing his happy group of Warhawks at Datka Stadium. "I went to Homestead, I know what that's like (to be expected to win every game), but really, it just comes down to the kids. They've worked so hard and we're so happy to see them succeed."
"And yeah, I knew he (Datka) was there. I think he'll want to see me in a little bit (laughs)."
With the win, the Warhawks finished the regular season at 5-2 in North Shore play and 7-2 overall, while Homestead, which had clinched no worse than a tie for its 11th league title in a row with a rout of Whitefish Bay last week, finished at 6-1 and 7-2, respectively.
Germantown had beaten Homestead in the state playoffs last season, but the win on Thursday was the one needed to end the official league winning streak.
Both will advance to the WIAA playoffs that will begin next Friday or Saturday. Homestead had not lost a North Shore Conference game since dropping a last-second thriller to Cedarburg early in the 2002 season. That year, Cedarburg, Homestead and Germantown all shared a piece of the league title.
It was the last time until now the Highlanders have had to share anything in the North Shore.
"They hadn't lost since early in the Bush administration, just think about that, that's amazing," said quarterback Josh Mongan, who engineered the fine-tuned Warhawk offense this night. "Seriously, I told the guys before the game, that there was a reason why their streak had lasted so long, but there was also a reason why we could break it tonight."
The reasons, multiple in nature, became clear from the get-go. Germantown hit harder, ran better routes, and never let the Highlanders think they were in the game.
And it started with Richmond's big run through a large hole right up the middle.
"We don't normally like to run middle like that" said Davis, "but we saw something right away and we broke it."
Richmond, who finished with 115 yards on 22 carries and two TDs, knew a pivotal moment when he saw one.
"That was the momentum we needed right away," he said. "Josh (Mongan) told us that we had to strike hard and strike fast and we did."
But the real story of the first half and for much of the game, was the Germantown defense, which has had its ups and downs this season, but picked a great time for its best game of the season.
Homestead did not get a first down until early in the second quarter on its fifth series of plays, but just two plays after that, Warhawk senior strong safety Ben Holcomb, who had a monster game on both sides of the ball, came hard on a blitz and basically intercepted the handoff between Berger and Homestead running back Antoine Easterling.
The turnover gave Germantown the ball on the Highlander 16 and a play later, Mongan hit a wide-open end Louis Tuszynski for a TD and a 14-0 lead at the 6:55 mark of the second quarter.
"I was coming off the edge and I think I surprised them a little bit," said Holcomb. "I don't think they saw me right away and the ball slipped out and I got it." Mongan would finish with 13 completions in 20 attempts for 178 yards while Berger was held to just four of 18 for 29 yards.
Homestead, which gained just 76 yards on 26 plays in the first half, never got beyond its own 42-yard line in the first two quarters.
And don't think the 14-0 lead at the half made the Warhawks happy. Several times over the past decade, Germantown has manufactured a lead at the half against Homestead only to see the Highlanders storm back.
That's why the Warhawks first drive of the third quarter, which started at the Highlander 49 was so important. Mongan hit a well-covered Holcomb (three catches for 103 yards) on a deep middle seam route for 45 yards and a first down at the Homestead seven. Two plays later, Mongan burrowed in from a yard out and a 20-0 lead.
But still, no one was feeling satisfied just yet.
"We weren't going to stop until there were all zeros on the clock," said Mongan, "because in the past being down 14-0 was like winning for Homestead. They've just come back so many times that we weren't going to stop until the very end."
That included turning back the Highlanders twice in the second half, as they finally got into Germantown territory. Holcomb stopped one incursion that reached the Warhawk 16 by breaking up a fourth down Berger pass and later, sophomore defensive lineman Hunter Higginbotham slapped away another fourth down Berger attempt from the Germantown 15 at the line of scrimmage.
But the true finishing touch to the win, something that Homestead has done itself so many times in maintaining the streak, was the grinding 20-play, 79-yard drive that Germantown started at the 2:34 mark of the third quarter and which didn't finish until the 4:25 mark of the fourth session, a total of 10 minutes, nine seconds.
It included two third down conversions and two fourth down conversions, including one where Richmond hit Tuszynski for 13 yards and a first down on one of Datka's favorite plays, the halfback option.
And when Richmond plowed in from a yard out to make it 27-0, the Warhawks could start celebrating.
"We'd been looking forward to this for so long," said Holcomb. "We knew what they were going to do offensively, knew what they'd like to run in the passing game and knew that we had to stop their run."
"We had the talent to do it this year. We had been disappointed the last few years, but this was a great way to end the streak."
Afterwards, Davis emulated both Datka and his old Homestead coach Dave Keel, turning the credit back onto his kids.
"There's just a lot of emotion that goes into this game," he said. "We just played so well. The kids did such a great job. And practice was great this week. There wasn't a lot of talking."
"We knew what this game was and simply got it done."
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