Germantown junior fullback Kyle Theis wanted everyone to know that they could count on him at crunch time in the Warhawks' North Shore football opener at rival Whitefish Bay Friday night.
"I just told everyone, 'I'll get it, it's mine,'" said Theis of his second surge fourth down effort that got over the goal-line and gave the Warhawks a 10-7 lead with 1:48 left in the third quarter.
And Theis came through again on fourth down at the 7:58 mark of the fourth quarter, finishing off an 11-play drive with a surge up the middle that made it 16-7.
Those two scores were eventually enough of a cushion as the Warhawks gained a valuable leg up in the North Shore race with a 23-15 victory over the Blue Dukes.
Germantown coach Jake Davis was relieved that both rolls of the dice he called for turned out to be lucky sevens.
"I called for them, they were all on me," he said, "but I just had faith in my kids. They looked me in the eyes and told me they wanted it."
With the win, the Warhawks improved to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in league play while Bay fell to 2-1 and 0-1, respectively. Germantown gave Bay its only league loss last season in a 14-13 thriller as the Blue Dukes went on to share the North Shore title with Homestead.
Warhawk junior defensive end Lincoln Gruber took pride in last year's 14-13 upset of Bay and he was exceptionally proud of tonight's effort. Gruber had two fumble recoveries this game, including a critical 15-yard return for a touchdown after teammate Clay Knapp stripped Blue Duke quarterback Turner DeMuth of the ball with 7:04 left.
That score made it 23-7 Germantown.
"Some over here (at Bay) thought our win (last year) was a fluke," said Gruber, "so we were glad to prove that it was not."
That strip and score was the last of four Blue Duke turnovers on the evening (three fumble recoveries and an interception) and Blue Duke coach Jim Tietjen knew that was the story of the night.
"That was the game right there," he said. "We've got to get that cleaned up, but give them (the Warhawks) credit. I think they wore our defense a little (in the second half)."
That may have been the case. The Blue Dukes took a 7-3 lead into the half on the strength of a beautiful 40-yard option pass for a touchdown from Joe Sherburne to Adam Strehlow at the 5:24 mark of the first quarter.
With everyone biting on the fake, no one was within yards of Strehlow as he grabbed the ball and raced in for the score.
Germantown closed the gap to 7-3 on a 35-yard Carter Schmitz field goal but Sherburne stopped another Warhawk drive when he snagged a tipped pass inside his own 10 for an interception.
He subsequently returned the pick for an apparent TD, but there was a block in the back penalty on the play that negated the score.
Bay looked like it was going to pad that lead early in the second half as it held the ball after the third quarter kickoff for 10 plays and got to the Warhawks 42 before a botched reverse resulted in Gruber jumping on the ball at the Blue Duke 48.
That led to Germantown's dramatic 11-play lead-taking drive.
A 12-yard pass from quarterback Dwayne Lawhorn, Jr., to Connor Schulz resulted in a first and goal at the two, but after two quarterback sneaks and bull rush by Theis netted the Warhawks only a yard, the Warhawks went for the pass on fourth down.
Lawhorn's fade was incomplete but a flag went up immediately fior interference. Germantown got one more crack from the one and this time, after Theis was stopped initially again, he bounced to his left and surged into the end zone to make it 10-7 Germantown with 1:48 left in the third.
"After the third time (being stopped) we were pretty determined," said Theis, "and after the pass we were pretty upset."
"They needed everyone of those five plays (to score)," said Tietjen a touch ruefully.
Germantown built on Theis' energy. The defense forced a three-and out and then the offense hammered out an 11-play drive. Lawhorn Jr., hit end Nick Holcomb for a 10-yard gain for a third down conversion and then connected with the senior end again for 19 yards on a fourth down play as Holcomb fought for extra yards and earned Germantown a first and goal at the Bay eight.
"Dwayne (Lawhorn) is building confidence everyday and he has extra confidence in Holcomb," said Davis. Lawhorn Jr., finished 12 of 19 for 150 yards. Holcomb caught eight of those balls for 114 yards.
That set up Theis' second fourth down punch into the end zone, this one not quite as dramatic.
A few moments after that, it looked like the game was over when Gruber strolled in from 15 yards out with the fumble to make it 23-7.
Even Gruber could not help but feel ecstatic at that moment.
"TDs are always huge for a defensive lineman," he said with a laugh. "Even when I was in grade school when I was an offensive lineman, I wanted to have the ball. I wanted to have that chance. So when it came to me tonight that was huge."
But even down two scores with just 7:04 to go, Bay was not done.
The Blue Dukes subsequently ground out an 11-play drive which concluded with a pretty 27-yard Turner DeMuth to Sherburne touchdown pass with 3:41 left.
And when bullish fullback Ben Lehrmann barreled in for the two-point conversion, Bay was within one score at 23-15.
To add to the drama, Blue Duke kicker Colin Downing successfully double-bounced an onside kick right into into the hands of his leaping teammate Jaren Walker and Bay had a shot with 3:37 left at the Germantown 48.
But after gaining a first down at the Warhawk 35, three plays, including a sack of DeMuth, pushed the Blue Dukes back eight yards and when DeMuth's long fourth down pass down the sideline was a few yards ahead of his receiver, Germantown had the victory.
When asked for a comment on how he felt after the Blue Dukes converted the onside kick, Davis just rolled his eyes and said "Next question."
Tietjen was pleased with his team's heart despite all the mistakes.
"Our kicker did a hell of a job at the end and as a result we had a chance," he said. "We're a good character team. I think we'll come out of this (okay)."
So will Germantown, because the Warhawks know how important winning that first league game is.
"We knew it would be a dogfioght, just like it always is," said Gruber, "but the seniors and the coaches got us good and fired up before the game. It was just like last year, everyone was just really supportive of one another."
"Something like this can't help but give our kids great confidence moving forward," said Davis. "There will be tough battles in conference all the way through, so it was good to get this one."
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