Kimberly football coach Steve Jones admitted that his team played with a chip on its shoulder Friday night at Homestead.
The Papermakers had an 11-0 record, a 50 points-per-game average and a physical, quick, efficient team that has not been seriously challenged all season, and yet all it could do was earn a second seed in its WIAA Division 2 playoff bracket behind the defending state champion Highlanders.
That chip landed like a boulder on Homestead's head Friday night, as the Papermakers made the two-hour trip down from Kimberly a profitable one, dominating the Highlanders from the get-go in a 37-7 Division 2, Level 3 playoff victory.
"Not taking anything away from Homestead; they're an excellent team and a deserving number one seed," said Jones, "but it was just unfortunate that we were placed in the same (eight-team) bracket."
"I think this started with our seniors. We have experienced senior-dominated offensive and defensive lines and we wanted to establish control at the point of attack right away, and I think we did a successful job of that."
The Papermakers (12-0) advance to a WIAA state semifinal against Waukesha West (10-2) next weekend.
The highly-touted Homestead-Kimberly tilt, the battle of number one and number two in the state Large School poll for most of the season, was a MaxPreps Top 10 national selection Friday evening.
But it was not much of a game right from the start thanks to Kimberly's ability to control the line of scrimmage, and that surprised veteran Homestead coach Dave Keel, whose squad closed out its successful campaign at 11-1.
"We were never able to move the ball effectively on the ground," he said. "We've been able to do that all season, but they took that away from us. ...We needed to be able to help out defense and move the ball tonight and we were unable to do that."
That was indeed the case, but it was the prolific Kimberly offense that made the first impression.
Lightning-quick and giving the Highlanders multiple looks, the Papermakers took advantage of a late-hit penalty on Homestead on the opening kickoff and moved 50 yards in just five plays as quarterback Scott Schreiber darted in from 18 yards for a touchdown just 1:23 into the contest.
It would be all downhill from there for the Highlanders.
Homestead got a first down right away on its first possession but then went 3-and-out and the Papermakers were back on the move right away, going 60 yards in seven plays. They took advantage of two Homestead offsides penalties, and sophomore running back running back Blair Mulholland ran right up the gut for six yards and a 14-0 Kimberly lead at the 5:18 mark of the first quarter.
Mulholland, with his head-down, hard-charging style, would be a thorn in the Highlanders' side all night, with 119 yards rushing on 25 carries. He frequently moved the defensive pile his way, turning 1-yard gains into 5- and 6-yard efforts through sheer force of will.
Remarkably, he is filling in for the Papkermakers' all-state caliber senior back J.P. Perenboom who was lost for the season a few games ago with a knee injury.
"He didn't run like sophomore tonight," said Jones of Mulholland. "He is just very hard to bring down."
Homestead had one golden opportunity in the first half. On the Papermakers' next possession, a snap went over Schreiber's head, resulting in a 14-yard loss and Kimberly pinned back on its own 1-yard line.
The subsequent punt gave the Highlanders the ball on the Kimberly 38, but a Nick Allen 4th-and-3 pass fell incomplete.
Two series later, Kimberly was back in the end zone after a 55-yard drive. Schreiber keyed the effort with 12- and 15-yard runs before Mulholland again plowed his way in for a score with 4:04 left in the first half.
It was 21-0 at the break, and the game was effectively over. Schreiber, who was 10 of 15 passing this night for 116 yards, was an All-State pitcher for the Kimberly baseball team last spring.
The Highlanders threw an interception on the first play of the second half, and that led to a Mitchel Fisher 30-yard field goal to make it 24-0.
Two series later, another methodical Papermakers drive resulted in another Mulholland TD, as he appeared stymied up the middle but quickly bounced it out to his left and sailed in from six yards out.
A short time later, the unthinkable happened. Schreiber found Jack DeGroot on a 13-yard TD pass with 9:47 to go to make it 37-0.
With that score, the Papermakers had hit the 35-point running clock threshold and had put it on the Highlanders on their home field. It was something that Homestead has done frequently to opponents over the last 15 seasons, but no one could remember the last time it happened to the Highlanders themselves.
Not even a consolation TD run by the home team's Anton Ragozin with 5:45 to go could ease the dismay of this proud team.
Jones was impressed by his team's effort.
"We knew how good their defensive line was," he said, "and so we used everything we could think of to keep them honest and keep them off balance. ...A lot of credit to that team (Homestead) and that amazing staff for getting this far.
"...But we deserved this one and it seemed that we played a little angry (because of the seed)."
For Keel and the Highlanders, who have four state titles since 1999, it was a hard pill to swallow as they were outgained 326 yards to 140.
"This was easily the best team we've seen," he said. "We played hard, but it's just never easy to simulate speed like that. We've seen fast teams before but they were a challenge."
Then when asked if the Papermakers now had a clear run at the title, Keel sat back thoughtfully for a moment and gave a logicial answer:
"Yes, I would have to say that they're the favorite."
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