A perfect half by Homestead leads to a perfectly wonderful trip to Madison
Berth in state football finals is fifth since 1999
Mequon - Fritz Rauch is as cerebral and smart as they come in his role of the Homestead football team's defensive coordinator.
But he can be blunt, too.
"Luck is for losers," he said following the Highlanders' stunning, near-perfect, 49-8 demolition of Marshfield in the WIAA Division 2 state semifinals Saturday afternoon in Oshkosh.
"We talk about it all the time: Great personnel, great preparation, great performance. That's how you win games."
His boss, Highlanders head coach Dave Keel agreed as the Highlanders (11-1) earned their first trip to the WIAA state finals Friday at Camp Randall since the Division 1 title year of 2008.
They will play three-time state D2 champion Waunakee (12-0) which survived a 35-28 overtime thriller over Homestead's North Shore rival Whitefish Bay the same day.
The win is also a little bit of revenge for the Highlanders as they had fallen to Marshfield the last two times that they met them in state semifinal games in 2001 and 2002.
This will be the fifth trip to the state finals for the Highlanders since 1999. They won D1 titles in 1999, 2006 and 2008. This is their first berth in D2.
Close to perfection
"I was very proud of how we stepped up," Keel said, "but in my 30-some years of coaching, that was about as close to perfect a (first) half of football that I may have seen.
"I knew we were focused and we're always looking to get better and better, but that (half) was indeed a special thing."
How perfect was the first 24 minutes?
The Highlanders scored on all six possessions, including off three turnovers, all of which were converted into touchdowns, and they ran 42 plays for 290 yards as opposed to just 12 for 71 for the Tigers.
They also scored on the first march, a 14-play, 74 yard drive that included one fourth down conversion and another fourth down conversion when quarterback Jake Laihinen drew the Tigers (10-2) offside with a hard count.
Running back Shaquille Cole, who ran hard on a tender ankle that was injured in last week's Level 3 win over Green Bay Southwest, converted that into a four-yard TD run.
"The funny thing was," Keel said, "We've been struggling all year to score on the first series. We simply haven't converted a whole lot, but to go down there and get seven points in that situation was a significant positive."
And then they did it again, with a 12-play 72-yard drive as Cole went over from five yards out for the score just at the start of the second quarter to make it 14-0.
How good was the day going? Keel even tried a little "trickeration" on that second sequence, as left-handed backup quarterback Vincent Wilkerson took a pitch from Laihinen and then hit Jack Pop for a 41-yard gain.
The march got off to a shaky start when Jay Schneider fumbled the Tiger punt, only to have teammate Tyler Gehrke jump on it and save the day. That's the second week in a row that Gehrke has saved Schneider's bacon in such a manner.
Cole's second TD of the day would be the start of a cascade of 35 second-period points that left the large Marshfield contingent stunned and the Homestead backers thrilled.
It happened quickly.
A bad punt was converted into a five-play, 47-yard drive for score as Laihinen sold a perfect fake into the middle and went six yards on an option for a 21-0 advantage.
Then backup kicker Luke Neusen dropped a kickoff into no man's land and Gehrke pounced on it on the Marshfield 16.
Three plays later, Laihinen sneaked in from a yard out for a 27-0 lead.
A play later, defensive back Riley Pelisek forced and gathered in a fumble on the Tiger 38. Three plays later, Laihinen found a wide open Schneider in the flat for a 35-yard TD reception as the margin ballooned to 35-0.
And just for good measure, Gehrke went back at it again, intercepting a pass on the Marshfield 47. Three plays later and with just 27 seconds left in the half, Laihinen scored from a yard out for his third TD of the half and a 42-0 halftime lead.
"I'm not sure what to say," Gehrke said. "I can't really explain it. It's just that we've (been) working and looking forward to this for eight years. I think we played just a great half."
Indeed, even Laihinen and the passing game were flawless, as including Wilkerson's toss, the Highlanders threw for 176 yards in the first half, including completions on all eight attempts.
Backup running back Brett Geschke even got into the act in the second half with a nifty 36-yard bounce off the edge to pay dirt.
"This feels great," Laihinen said. "When coach Keel calls the perfect play for the perfect situation, it's an amazing feeling."
Even giant senior offensive tackle Luke Worthington, who will play his last football game in the state finals as he is taking a basketball scholarship to BYU next fall, felt good about his role, leading an efficient effort by an offensive line that includes three sophomores.
"This is amazing," he said. "We're starting a new legacy here. We're getting back to state, where we belong."
"The whole week of practice we tried to be as perfect as we could be," Schneider said. "To be anything else was not an option at this point (in the season)."
His coach was happy to see that.
"One of the things that successful teams do is play their best football toward the end of the season," Keel said. "That (first half) may indeed have been the best run of football I've seen in many seasons.
"All three phases, offense, defense, special teams, we were clicking."
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