Excited about it? Yes. The end-all and be-all for the season? Definitely not.
That was the attitude of the Homestead football players and coaches after they went into Taraska Stadium in Hartland Thursday night and, for the second season in a row, beat the two-time defending WIAA state D1 champs from Arrowhead, 24-20.
Everyone was on the same page afterward.
"It was a nice victory over a good team, but it doesn't make our season and we know we have a lot of work to do," said veteran coach Dave Keel.
"The first one felt great last year, it was a dog fight, and this one is a great feeling too," said all-state defensive lineman David Pfaff. "But we need to bring it home to Camp Randall this year (for a state championship). This is a building block to what we need to do to make that happen.
"We live by Coach Keel's words he instills it in us. 'That was a great opponent over there, but we expect to win and we expect to win with class.'"
"It means a lot," said hard-working quarterback Nick Allen, who had 295 yards of total offense on the night, "but we're not going to let it go to our heads. We'll enjoy it for a little bit, but starting on Monday, we're going to get ready for Port Washington (the North Shore Conference opener on Sept. 5)."
The Highlanders already look like they are.
Homestead was a definite underdog in last year's game when it pulled the upset. In this game, however, the Highlanders were slight favorites and acted like it.
Homestead (2-0 on the young season) never trailed in the contest and always seemed to be just one step ahead of the Warhawks (1-1), who are in a bit of a reloading mode after their back-to-back state crowns.
The defense gave the Highlanders a boost right away. The Warhawks drove to the Homestead 37 on the opening march, but junior defensive lineman Josh Mueller tipped a Johnny Duranso pass, and senior linebacker Nick Van Driesse alertly dove to the ground to snag the interception.
Homestead took advantage, driving 68 yards in 12 plays with Allen pushing the ball in from a yard out at the 3:19 mark. It was just a small bit of his 143-yard rushing total (on 27 tries) and included a critical 3-yard effort on a 4th and 1 play.
It was one of four big fourth-down conversions this night for Homestead.
When asked if he was more of a quarterback or a running back, Allen just laughed and said:
"I just run whatever coach Keel sends in."
That trend worked for much of the first half.
Two series later, the Highlanders put together a nine-play, 60-yard drive. Allen converted another 4th and 1 on another power sneak, but he saved his best fourth down magic for a a beautiful 21-yard fade pass to junior end Jack Popp in the far left corner of the end zone to make it 14-0 with 7:28 left in the half.
"Jack is a great athlete," said Allen. "I just throw it up there, and he's a good enough receiver to go and get it. He made that throw look a lot better than it was."
His coach was more gracious,
"I particularly liked that fourth-down pass," said Keel. "He put it right on the money." Allen would hit 10 of 14 passes for 152 yards this night.
The big play-minded Warhawks didn't wait long to answer, however, as on the very next play after the kickoff, Duranso hit Jordan Argue on a little wide receiver screen. Argue slipped one tackle and then was off to the races for a 65-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-7 with 7:17 left in the half.
But Homestead, behind a large and dominant offensive line, didn't blink, running off more than six minutes of the clock on a 64-yard drive that ended when Luke Neusen hit a 27-yard field goal to make it 17-7 with 1:03 left in the half.
"I know I get a lot of the credit," said the hard-running Allen, "but a lot of that should go to the offensive line for sure."
But Arrowhead's defense made some adjustments at the start of the second half and the Highlanders sputtered a bit on their first two series.
The Warhawks took advantage with an impressive 95-yard drive that was finished with another big play as Duranso hit Sebastian Luksich on a wide open deep out down the left side for a 73-yard score that tightened the margin to 17-14 with 2:39 left in the third.
But that's where the the Highlanders called up their inner reserves, pounding out an imposing 7-plus minute, 15-play, 80-yard drive that included yet another fourth down rushing conversion by Allen.
He also showed himself to be a master of the fake, holding the ball in the back's belly for the longest time on a first-down play at the Arrowhead 39, only to pull the ball out at the last second and go careening down the field for a 21 yard gain.
Five plays later, Allen burrowed into the end zone from two yards out at the 6:55 mark to make it 24-14.
"Nick finds a way to make plays," said Keel in a manner of understatement. "He's a genuine two-way threat to run or pass."
"We knew we needed to get another TD for our defense," said Allen. "The offensive line really took it to them."
Arrowhead countered with a 13-play march but it took too much time before Cody Sellhausen ran in from a yard out with 1:24 to play. The Warhawks had to burn a time-out on the series and to compound matters, they missed the extra point.
Homestead recovered the onside kick and three plays later, Allen pounded his way to the clinching first down.
As noted, the Highlanders were happy but were not going to celebrate too much.
Keel knew his team made a statement last season with what was considered a major upset over the Warhawks. This year, he wants his team to know that this win is just a steppeing stone to bigger and better things.
"We have to put our best foot forward every time out," he said. "We're not out to embarrass anyone. We just want to get the job done.
"I felt the kids were engaged right away in that idea. They were the ones who said it even before I ever mentioned it, the captains were already talking about Port Washington."
But not before remembering what they had accomplished this night.
"It feels good," said Allen. "We're proud of the fact that we were able to beat a realy good team two years in a row. It's very important, because we know that we're a good football team ourselves."
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