The Homestead football team faced an uphill battle going into its WIAA Division 2 Level 4 matchup with Monona Grove at Oconomowoc High School on Nov. 11. After losing senior quarterback Eric Zoeller to a broken collarbone against Whitefish Bay in Level 3, the Highlanders improvised as best they could, but Grove's high-powered offense led the Silver Eagles to a 35-6 victory.
"They earned it," Homestead coach Dave Keel said. "They played exceptionally well. They were definitely the better team tonight."
Monona Grove jumped out to a quick start with a five play, 70-yard opening drive capped off with a 26-yard touchdown pass. Grove's next drive resulted in a 15-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left in the opening quarter.
"I knew they were going to be solid," Keel said. "We tried taking advantage wherever we could. When we really needed to make some plays, we weren't able to do it, and that's a credit to their defense."
Homestead's first four drives stalled, with three ending on downs. Its third possession of the game was a promising 12-play drive for 74 yards. Junior running back Bradley Woldt, who was a complete workhouse for the Highlanders with Zoeller out of the lineup, highlighted the drive with a 44-yard run.
Woldt ran 27 times for 130 yards. The junior even took snaps out of the wildcat formation and completed two of his six passes for 44 yards and two interceptions. Also attempting one pass each in the game was junior Julius Wilkerson and sophomore Jack Riebau.
"We were trying to put the kids in the best position to be successful," Keel said. "As the game wore on, we tried to find the best ones to do the best jobs in certain places. At times it was good, at other times, it wasn't so good."
Homestead, which has advanced to at least Level 4 for the past three seasons, had three interceptions and a fumble. But the Highlanders still totaled 268 offensive yards and 12 first downs. Monona Grove junior quarterback Alec Ogden completed 10 of 16 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Jackson Thomsen ran 17 times for 100 yards and two scores.
"Their offense was good," Keel said. "We knew their speed on offense, but I felt our defense played reasonably well. We gave them a couple scores there on offense and our defense held them. They were pretty tough, I thought."
Michael Fehrenbach, a junior middle linebacker, led Homestead with six total tackles. Sophomore Emory Weeden and junior Jordan Schroeder contributed five total tackles each.
"We weren't making enough plays to put much pressure on them," Keel said. "I thought our defense stepped up at times and played pretty well. Offensively, we had a couple good plays but we couldn't get consistency."
Trailing 21-0 in the third quarter with 6:23 remaining, Woldt punched in a 6-yard touchdown run, but the Highlanders couldn't convert the 2-point attempt. Keel credited Monona Grove's quickness on defense.
"I think their quickness at linebacker was a real bonus for them," Keel said. "Their linebackers filled really well. They weren't even blitzing necessarily and they were filling well, finding gaps and they did a really nice job."
Homestead, which was the top seed in its bracket, finished the season 11-2 overall. Monona Grove was a fifth seed and never played a home game in the playoffs.
"Our seniors are outstanding," Keel said. "We have such a great group of kids. I'm so proud of what they accomplished this year. They are so much fun to be around. I absolutely love them."
With the challenge of replacing Zoeller, Keel felt his team handled the situation well.
"It's always tough when you lose one of your top playmakers," Keel said. "Not only that, he's a phenomenal kid. He is just a special young man. That made it a challenge. We believed we were going to win the football game. They played hard, they had a great week of practice. I thought it was going to be a good, solid game for us, and it didn't turn out that way."