The Homestead football team was supposed to lose to Arrowhead in their historic match-up of defending state champions in Mequon on Friday.
They were supposed to lose badly.
The facts on paper said so: Seven D1 collegiate scholarship offers, multiple returning stars off a dominant 2012 state D1 championship team, a No. 1 state ranking and all the hype and talk were on Arrowhead's side.
There was nothing going on in favor of the young, hopelessly inexperienced Highlanders, who lost a ton of great talent off their own state D2 champion and had so many question marks that it would take five multiple choice tests to find out all the answers.
Except there was this little matter of belief.
"Nobody doubted alll week if they could do this," said Homestead's great defensive coordinator Fritz Rauch, the architect of one brilliant defensive performance after another this past decade. "If they had, there's no way that this could have happened.
"Never an ounce of doubt. The only people who needed to believe that this could get done, that we could do this, was us."
And when brave and resourceful junior Highlanders quarterback Nick Allen (63 yards rushing and both touchdowns) took two knees to close out the game, with Homestead ahead by a stunning count of 13-7, belief spread far and wide in the Wisconsin prep football community.
Well beyhond the borders of Mequon/Thiensville.
"This required an extraordinary effort by everybody," said junior defenisve tackle David Pfaff. "We were underdogs, so we had to take it to the house because it was our house. ...This is so big. We had to rebuild our confidence (after losing so many people to graduation). We had to believe in our own playing ability again. So many people stepped up, Jon Weyker, Conor Quick, Bryce Juedes. Everybody.
"It was crazy, it was nuts."
It was, as both legendary Highlander coach Dave Keel and Arrowhead leader Greg Malling knew how this game was won and lost.
"That was classic Homestead," said Malling. "They wait for you to beat yourself and then take advantage of your mistakes. ...We've been really sloppy (the last few weeks) and this (the Highlanders) is a team that will expose you for that.
"We started first and 15, first and 20 too often (because of penalites) and you can't do that against a team like this."
No you can't, just ask Keel.
"Without a doubt everyone in this lockerroom believed that we would do this," said Keel. "We held our turnovers down (just one) and got the plays when we needed, and that defense, well it was just pretty special tonight."
It was pretty special this night in a lot of ways, as Keel noted. It had a great feel and energy. A terrific turnout by the noisy and loud Homestead student section, days before school even begins, egged things on.
This was the kind of game, Keel said, where it seemed every play bore a special magnitude of its own.
The Highlanders (2-0) tried to do something special for themselves and their fans.
The defense played its part, holding the juggernaut that was the Warhawks (1-1) to just 206 total yards, and 67 of them came on a first quarter mad scramble by quarterback Blake Mielke that gave Arrowhead a 7-0 lead.
That would be the only hiccup in the first half for the Highlanders, as the defense forced five three-and-outs before the break with the Warhawks ahead 7-0.
Still, the offense needed to get going, especially after gaining only 59 yards in a scoreless first half.
The Highlanders blew past their first half yardage total on the first sequence of the third quarter, charging down the field 80 yards in eight plays for the game-tying touchdown.
Allen hit sophomore end Jack Popp for a huge 33-yard gain on a deep out and then got out of the way as the offensive line and tough-minded backs Eric Wade, Vincent Wilkerson and Anton Ragozin got the Highlanders close to the goal-line.
Allen charged home around left end for the final seven yards, and just like that, the so-called "blowout" was now tied at 7-all.
"Nick grew up here a little bit tonight," said Keel in a manner of understatement. Homestead would gain an impressive 200-plus yards in the second half.
Meanwhile, the defense never allowed the Warhawks past midfield in the second half.
"Ever since the Hartford game ended last Friday (an easy opening win), we knew we had to flip the page," said the linebacker Juedes, who was one of the few key returnees that the Highlanders had back this season and who also took a few turns at fullback. "We talked. We knew that if we believed and had a great week of practice that this could happen.
"We believed it. Heart, fight, and belief, those were the words we used all week."
That philosophy finally earned the Highlanders the victory in the fourth quarter.
The offense took over on its own 29 with about 5:14 to go. Allen jump-started things when he took an option run and raced 31 yards up the sideline to the Arrowhead 36. Three plays later, he turned in a Homestead play for the ages, skipping and scooting through the middle of the field until finally being brought down 30 yards later with a first down on the Warhawks 5.
"He made a few people miss on that one, didn't he?" said Keel. "I really want to see that one on tape."
Two plays later, Allen snuck it in from two yards out for the score. The extra point was blocked, but still Homestead was up 13-7 with just 1:42 to play. It was then that the Warhawks sloppy play really caught up with them.
They were out of time outs.
Malling had made a tactical decision a few series earlier and decided to go to sophomore Jonathan Duranso at quarterback. Arrowhead got to its own 36, but no closer. A hands to the face penalty and a motion call pushed them back.
When Duranso's deep go-route pass landed well ahead of his receiver's hands on a 4th and 10 play, the Highlanders turned belief into celebration.
"We had a good game plan, and the kids just stuck with it," said Rauch, who along with Keel accepted one happy handshake and hug after another after the game. "Just fantastic."
"Even at state (last year) I don't think I've ever been part of a game as fun as this one," said Juedes. "We were playing against people who we considered our brothers and it just got to be so much fun, so awesome knowing that they weren't going to move the ball against us."
Malling, who said that his team needs to learn from this stunning turn of events quickly, was disappointed that his team didn't put forth a better effort in such a high-profile game, but he also knew his opponents had a big hand in the outcome.
"We never got in sync," he said, "but that starts with Homestead. With Coach Rauch and the defense he runs out there. He runs it unbelievably well. We looked at it as a challenge that was put in front of us. Then we tripped and fell on our faces."
Keel, who loved the night's atmosphere, energy, and level of improvement (always a gospel tenet of his philosophy) is happy with this win. It was one that reaffirmed the fact that Homestead, no small fry in the sea of Wisconsin prep football itself, was once again going to be swimming with the big boys this season.
"You can make all the adjustments in the world, but the players still have to perform them, which is what they did tonight," he said. "What a great atmosphere. ...This game had a lot of what people love about high school football."
Including a big upset.
- Tested Homestead girls soccer team wins North Shore Conference
- Birthday fun surrounds Keel family softball reunion
- Thorough Homestead girls track team wins North Shore Conference outdoor title
- North Shore tennis teams prepare for NSC tourney
- Homestead grad Blake Leeson grows into volleyball and becomes a national champ at Ohio State
- Homestead boys reveal their identity, win NSC track relays
- Relays cement Homestead track teams' second-place finishes at Tosa invite
- Homestead girls soccer team hangs on to beat Germantown, 3-2
- Germantown girls softball team wins critical test against Homestead, 8-4
- Homestead's Routhier earns $20,000 scholarship