Homestead football coach Dave Keel thinks that his quarterback Nick Allen is a pretty smart guy.
"Nick's amazing," said Keel. "When I make mistakes, he'll correct them for me. When I make the occasional bad call, he'll help me fix it."
Allen was back at it on Friday night in a pivotal North Shore Conference game at archrival Germantown. With a share of their 13th league title in a row on the line, the Highlanders were facing a challenge.
Germantown, which came into the game with thoughts of sneaking into a tie for the league lead with a victory, had erased much of a 21-0 first half deficit and cut the margin to 21-14 with 5:59 left on a Dwayne Lawhorn, jr., 4-yard TD pass to Nick Holcomb.
The Highlanders subsequently found themselves backed up to their own 20-yard line and needing a jump-start
That's when Allen took matters into his own hands. As he did in other key games this season -- most notably the early upset of Arrowhead -- he called his own number on an option play.
He kicked the play outside, made a couple of nice moves, and 65 yards later, he and the Highlanders had a first down on the Germantown 15.
Six plays later, running back Eric Wade slashed over from a yard out with 2:13 to go to built the lead back to 28-14. From there, Homestead was able to hang on for the 28-20 victory with another conference title in hand.
"I told the offense that we had to play more heads-up," said Allen. "Their defense had been stopping us in the second half. We needed to make one big play. The line blocked well and the play turned out big."
His coach was impressed, to a point.
"It was his decision on that play," said Keel. "Nick made a great run and he read the play perfectly. The line did a great job and then he (Allen) just turned on the jets. But he didn't score on it, I'm going to have get him on a little for that (laughs)."
Only a little, as the top-ranked in state Highlanders improved to 6-0 in North Shore play and 8-0 overall, while Germantown fell to 4-2 and 6-2, respectively.
"This was the first goal (conference)," said Keel in all seriousness. "It was a physical and tough game, but we got it done."
The Highlanders will try to complete a perfect regular season and get a little revenge in the process when they host Whitefish Bay (4-2, 6-2) next Friday. Bay beat Homestead last season and tied the Highlanders for the NSC championship.
"We had to uphold the streak of conference champiionships," said Allen. "Though coach Keel just told us he doesn't like sharing them, so we'll have to go and take care of business next week in that big game with Bay."
Germantown coach Jake Davis knows his team missed out on a great opportunity tonight.
"It was a little too little, a little too late," he said. "I was proud of our fight. We fight like that in future games, we should go far. But games like this are tough ones. A little hard to take."
Davis was a center for Keel-led Homestead teams from 1999-2001.
Further, Davis had to admire the way the veteran Homestead offensive line handled itself in the first half, as the Highlanders pounded out 166 yards rushing and earned 14 first downs in building their big lead.
With offensive line coach Matt Wolf challenging them with a shout of "We shouldn't have to pass the ball," Homestead ground out scoring drives of 85, 65 and 46 yards in the first half.
Allen found Jack Popp on a 38-yard TD pass for the first score, Wade broke free from 20 yards out to race in for the second score and with just 16 seconds to go in the half, and Wade plowed in from a yard out to make it 21-0.
"The offensive line did a great job, just like it does every week," said Wade, who finished with 154 yards on 33 carries, including 112 of them in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Homestead defense did a great job of its own, limiting the Warhawks to four first downs in the first half including no serious threats.
That would change in the second half. Homestead ground out an 8-plus minute drive to start the second half but got nothing from it.
Germantown then finally got its Lawhorn-based passing game in gear, as over 11 plays the Warhawks covered 83 yards for their first score. Lawhorn found Nathan Walters on a 12-yard TD pass with 11:25 left in the game.
After Germantown defensive lineman Ben Gloede recovered a Homestead fumble on the 29, the Warhawks needed only six plays to cash in, as Lawhorn found Holcomb on that four-yard TD pass to cut the margin to 21-14.
Lawhorn would complete 17 of 27 passes for 219 yards, and eight of those completions went to Holcomb for 130 yards. He also had two interceptions.
"We made some adjustments in the second half," said Lawhorn. "We're fortunate to have a lot of 6-3, 6-4 guys (as receivers). They always have good defensive backs at Homestead, but we just had to do what we do best.
"And Nick (Holcomb) and I just click. We just know what we need to do."
But so did the Highlanders. Folliowing the final Homestead touchdown, Lawhorn got Germantown back into the end zone in a hurry again. He found Holcomb for 56 yards on a brilliant sideline grab and then hit Walters with an 11-yard score with 1:29 left to make it 28-20.
With only one timeout left, the Warhawks needed to convert the onside kick to have a chance, and when the kick went out of bounds and over to Homestead, the Highlanders had their victory and their title.
Which as Keel noted, doesn't need to be shared.
"That game last year (with Bay) was a big motivator," said Wade. "We think back on that loss a lot. There was a chance we could have faced them again in the (WIAA State D2) title game (which Homestead won over Waunakee), but it didn't happen."
"Now we get another chance at them."
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