A three-touchdown performance from senior running back Eric Wade highlighted the night for the Homestead football team as the Highlanders shut out Whitefish Bay on Friday, 24-0, and capped an undefeated season and outright North Shore Conference title.
The defending Division 2 state champion once again head into the playoffs as the team to beat.
"I thought our kids were really ready to play football," said Homestead coach Dave Keel. "We were frustrated last year that we went over there and didn't play as well as we wanted to. They beat us last year over there, so I think our kids remembered that and came out ready to play, and they played well."
As for the conference championship, Keel saw it meant a lot to his seniors on the team.
"It's an honor for our seniors; it's their team," he said. "They've worked hard to be successful, and they were successful, and they did a great job. So we're awfully proud of what they did."
Homestead dominated the game from the beginning, getting the first points of the game at 5:45 in the first quarter when Wade scored on a 1-yard run to cap an 11 play, 53-yard drive. The senior finished with 25 rushing attempts for 157 yards.
"He's an awfully good running back," Keel said. "He's quick and he's tough in there, and he gets the hard yard, and he makes people miss. His touchdown on a little inside play made two or three people miss, and boom, he's in the end zone. He's been doing that all year."
Keel referred to Wade's second score of the game, a 17-yard run to end the first quarter and put the Highlanders up 14-0, set up by a drive that started at the Highlanders' 20.
After struggling to make a stop, Whitefish Bay (6-3, 4-3 North Shore) appeared to get some momentum back after stopping a Homestead drive on its own 32. However, the Blue Dukes found themselves pinned deep in their own territory after a Homestead punt was downed on the 1-yard line.
On the third play of their drive, Dukes running back Ben Lehrmann fumbled the ball on the 8-yard line, and Homestead recovered. Two plays later, it was Wade getting his third touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run to make it 21-0 Homestead with 4:58 left to go in the first half.
"Chalk that up to the O-line, because they just do a great job every week of just pounding people and pushing them back and opening up big holes," said Wade about the offense's performance. "The lead blockers like Vince Wilkerson and Matt Winters, too, getting through the holes and hitting the backers."
"I think our offensive line is pretty special," Keel said. "We've got five guys up there that are all pretty physical, that play hard. Those five guys have all played well. We like those five kids."
Winters rushed 10 times for 68 yards, and Cole Murphy added 9 carries for 59 yards. Junior quarterback Nick Allen threw 19 passes, completing 5 of them for 45 yards. It was his highest number of passing attempts this season, eclipsing his previous high of 16 against Grafton on Sept. 12. But the running game was prevalent.
Luke Neuson kicked a field goal at 11:51 of the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
The Dukes were unable to gain a single first down in the game, rushing for just 24 yards on 19 carries. and could never seem to establish a rhythm. Quarterback Turner DeMuth only completed one pass for 8 yards, and the Blue Dukes rushed the ball 19 times for just 24 yards as a team. Lehrmann rushed 11 carries for 42 yards.
"There's a reason they're ranked where they are," Whitefish Bay coach Jim Tietjen said. "There's reasons that they've beaten the teams they have. I thought our kids scrapped and competed. We just couldn't match their strength. That was really it. Scheme that meets strength sometimes has problems."
Whitefish Bay struggled on defense as well, giving up 323 rushing yards to the Highlanders. Tietjen sees room for improvement for Whitefish Bay as they look ahead to the playoffs.
"First of all, we hope we don't see Homestead next week," Tietjen said. "We've got a few things to deal with. We have some things to correct, fundamentals. At the end of the day, we just need to get better, that's all."
As for Homestead, it comes down to taking it one game at a time when the playoffs start.
"Now the intensity increases; it's one-and-done time," Keel said. "Now it really gets to a fun time of the year. We have to play every game like it's the last game, because it is. We'll really come out hopefully firing on all cylinders and get after it."
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