Schneider's run sends Homestead football back to state semifinals
Highlanders face old foe Marshfield on Saturday
Mequon - In Homestead football lore, there is the touchdown pass from Derek Watson to David Harkensee to beat Germantown in the greatest regular season game ever in 2003.
In 2007, there was the overtime fourth-down out pass from Casey Barnes to Justin Howard that Howard lunged just over the goal line to help beat Whitefish Bay on its refurbished stadium's dedication night.
To that legacy, you can now add Jay Schneider's amazing seven-yard TD scamper and leap with 1:16 remaining Saturday that lifted the Highlanders to a 17-13 WIAA Division 2, Level 3 playoff win over previously unbeaten host Green Bay Southwest.
With the win, the Highlanders (10-1) advance to the WIAA D2 state semifinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at UW-Oshkosh against Marshfield (10-1). It is their first berth in the semifinals since the 2008 D1 state championship season.
"I just saw a wall of blockers and a sideline that was thinning out fast," Schneider said, "so I decided to do what the pros do on Sunday and launch myself (from about the three-yard line) and there it was, the touchdown we needed."
His coach, veteran Dave Keel, was a bit more effusive about the play.
"We'd been down inside the 10-yard line so many doggone times and come away with not so many points," he said. "I called a play which turned out not to be open, so Jay decided to take a shortcut into the end zone and all of a sudden, before we knew it, there he was.
"Just a great play by a great athlete."
Schneider tiptoed along the left sideline and at the very last second launched himself from about the three-yard line. He spun to his back in midair and landed on his butt in the end zone, much to the delight of his dog-tired teammates. Who still had some work to do.
Defense had to make stop
The Trojans (10-1) quickly worked their way to the Homestead 39 with just under a minute remaining, but that's when the Highlanders defense, which had been stout all second half, went to work.
On second down, Southwest quarterback Matt McMahon rolled out to his right, but before he could plant his feet, all-world Homestead end Ryan Stendler and offensive lineman turned pass-rushing fiend Luke Worthington were in his grill.
The result was a 14-yard sack of McMahon that forced the Trojans into a timeout with 47 seconds left.
Not that it helped them much.
On the next play, McMahon was under pressure again and threw a fastball into the middle of the field, where junior defensive back Max Pavelec tipped the ball right into the waiting arms of teammate and senior defensive back David Anderson, who corralled the game-ending interception and sent the Homestead sideline into bedlam.
"... Our defense just wanted to be on the field with the game on the line," defensive coordinator Fritz Rauch said.
It seemed to be all afternoon.
The Highlanders had a 10-6 lead at the half but had to feel that they hadn't gotten their money's worth for all the time it spent on the Trojans side of the field.
Two drives inside the 15 netted only a 27-yard Stendler field goal.
But shortly before the half, the Highlanders extended the advantage to 10-0. A Southwest player accidentally touched a punt by the Highlanders' Stendler and the ball was recovered by Homestead's Tyler Gehrke on the Trojans 19.
Five plays later, senior running back Shaquille Cole plowed four yards into the end zone with just 55 seconds remaining.
But the Trojans cut McMahon loose in the final seconds of the half.
He completed five-of-seven passes on the subsequent sequence, including a 23-yarder to Chad Leeman that gave Southwest a first and goal at the one with just over five seconds remaining.
McMahon sneaked the ball in, and it was 10-6 at the half.
Trojans kept battling
Momentum remained securely with Southwest. The Highlanders got a good return of the second half kickoff from Cole, but Southwest forced a fumble and recovered at its own 49, though Homestead eventually forced a three and out.
The Trojans continued to play the field position game to great advantage, and two sequences later it paid huge dividends. On a third and 14 play from his own seven, Highlanders quarterback Jake Laihinen tried to drop back to pass but was quickly overrun and sacked, forcing a fumble in the process.
Southwest's giant sophomore defensive lineman Reggie McKenzie (6-4, 266) recovered the ball in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown at the 4:46 mark of the third quarter, making it 13-10.
"That was a bozo call by me that the team had to overcome," said a chagrined Keel.
Two possessions later, the Highlanders began their last-ditch effort from their own 37 with 3:37 remaining.
Laihinen, who struggled to make plays in the passing game most of the afternoon, hit the versatile Schneider with a quick out route that went for 26 yards on first down.
Two plays later, he hit Brett Geschke on a similar pattern to the other side of the field for 18 yards and two runs later, Homestead had a first and goal on the six.
Homestead was showing its heart and tenacity at this point, as the backs were running behind a patched-up offensive line. Starting guard Max Daniels had to come out with an injury and his replacement was sophomore John Marita.
Cole himself was running on a heavily-taped ankle after getting hurt in a pileup.
Giving it a little extra
It was after Cole was thrown back for a 2-yard loss on first down that Schneider engaged in his heroics.
"We just had to get things shaped up," Schneider said. "Something just wasn't clicking on those previous drives. We just all had to step up and give a little something extra."
"Character and heart," mused Keel afterward. "We had chances to put the game away early, but we didn't. Then we tried to give it away, but then we took it back. ... I was just so tickled with the defense getting those stops in the second half.
"They really did the job."
As did everyone else.
"From day one coach Keel and Rauch have preached how much character goes into playing football," said linebacker Bryce Juedes, who had two critical sacks in the game. "We had to face tons of adversity this year. We just had to battle back so hard. … We just had each other's backs.
"We'd been stuck on Level 2 (of the playoffs) for awhile now. Now we get to start a new tradition. Now we're back."
BACK TO THE FUTURE: This will be the fourth time that Homestead has faced Marshfield in the state semifinals but the first time since 2002. All the previous games had been in Division 1. Homestead beat the Tigers for the 1999 state title 23-13, but the Highlanders lost to Marshfield in the state semifinal round in both 2001 (41-20) and 2002 (13-6). In both years, the Tigers went on to win the state title. Old coach Len Luedtke is gone, but one of his assistants, Dennis Goettl, has carried on the tradition of success. The Tigers have outscored their opponents 341-206 as quarterback Bo Howard has thrown for 1,180 yards and 10 TDs (with nine interceptions). Riley Gebelein (158 carries for 1,197 yards and 21 TDs) and Kerion Howlett (78-661-6) lead the formidable rushing attack. Ever since a 42-7 loss to Menasha on Oct. 5, the Tigers have been on a roll, winning four in a row, scoring a minimum of 31 points in each of those victories.
ANALYSIS: Homestead coach Dave Keel is happy with where his team is at this point and knows that though the Tigers are not statistically overwhelming they have a knack for winning just as his team does.
"They led their league (The Wisconsin Valley) in both offense and defense," he said, "and they have athletes on both sides of the ball. It's a good team. … I don't think we've overachieved. I just think we're getting a lot out of our ability with players who are rising to the occasion. Guys like Luke (Worthington), Jay (Schneider) and Shaquille (Cole) are quite special."
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