Nicolet football coach Al Moroder came home, in a way, Sept. 30 when his Knights fell, 42-12, to host Homestead.
He was not completely unhappy with the results. He knew his rapidly improving Knights didn't quite have the depth to stand in against the powerful 2015 WIAA state D2 champions and current North Shore Conference leading Highlanders, but they did force them to stand up and take notice, as the Knights trailed only 21-12 at the break before running out of gas in the second session.
Moroder, who roamed sideline--to-sideline as a fierce and fast linebacker for Homestead in the early 2000s, wanted his team to hold its own against his alma mater, and, by and large, he was OK with the results.
"Anytime you come back to Homestead you're excited to play some football," he said. "A lot of the same guys (coaching staff) are still on the sideline, and it was nice to see them again. Heck, it was just exciting to be back in the North Shore again. We've started to clean up some of the mistakes, and if we continue to play with the same intensity, we should be able to finish the season well."
Moroder's old coach, Dave Keel, was happy to get the win but more pleased with the visible improvement his former charge Moroder has made with his new team.
"It was a good game, and their kids played hard," said Keel. "I was impressed with how far they've come along. They really have improved the level of their play.
"He's (Moroder) done a good job."
Homestead's solid night of work lifted it to 5-0 in the North Shore and 6-1 overall. The Highlanders picked up a break when Whitefish Bay (4-1, 5-2), which had entered Sept. 30 tied with the Highlanders for the league lead, were upset by Milwaukee Lutheran. Homestead will host Bay at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, in what will effectively be the North Shore Conference championship game.
"I was really surprised by that," Keel said of Bay's loss. "I expect them (the Blue Dukes) to make a complete 180-degree turn and really come out smoking on Friday."
Meanwhile, Nicolet (0-5, 1-6) will host Lutheran (2-3, 2-5) squad at 7 p.m. Oct. 7.
The Knights, long known for their difficulties on the gridiron, are starting to become competitive again.
When Homestead hit on an early 2-yard TD run by Brady Bartz and a subsequent 2-point conversion by Bradley Woldt, Nicolet did not fold. Instead, Knights' QB Jack Hansen hit Dakari Williams on a 25-yard TD pass to cut the margin to 8-6.
Homestead upped the advantage to 14-6 on a 5-yard run by Jared Schneider before the end of the first, but Nicolet answered early in the second period as Hansen and Williams connected again on a 25-yard TD pass to cut the margin to 14-12.
Moroder called the execution on that second pass "beautiful" and credited his defense for "flying around the field" in the first half, despite a number of injuries to the linebacking corps.
A fourth down stop deep on the Homesteads side of the field set up one of the Nicolet scores.
Homestead pushed the advantage to 21-12 at the half on a 14-yard Eric Zoeller to Drew Crabbe TD pass.
In the second half, the Highlanders began to exert their advantages in depth and size and prevented the Knights from seriously threatening again.
Meanwhile, the Homestead offense made Keel and everyone else on the Highlander sideline far more comfortable, as Bartz rushed in for TDs from 1 yard and 14 yards, respectively, and Bradley Woldt closed out the scoring in the fourth on a 2-yard dash.
"Homestead did eventually take advantage of some opportunities," said Moroder.
Keel was pleased with his team's execution in the second half.
"In the second half, we were a little more consistent," he said. 'I just didn't do a very good job of coaching in the first half. We were a bit more inspired in the second half."
Zoeller had a fine night from his quarterback's slot as he hit seven of 12 passes for 149 yards and a score and also rushed for 42 yards on nine tries. Woldt rushed for 113 yards on 19 tries, and Matt Hartlieb caught two passes for 89 yards.
"Brad and Eric had very good days; they both showed why they're special," said Keel, "and our offensive line continued to show improvement."
Hansen worked to keep the Knights in the game, hitting six of 11 passes for 84 yards and two TDs.
Moroder viewed this first contest against his alma mater as a learning experience for both the team and himself. He and his old coach Keel had a chance to talk quite a bit before the game.
"Certainly anytime you talk about Homestead, you're talking about a team that has set a very high bar in the state of Wisconsin for high school football (five state titles since 1999)," he said. "The more you play them, the more you can learn from them, (and) the better you can get."