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There was a sense of nostalgia, of doing things the old-fashioned way, at Homestead on Friday night in the North Shore Conference football battle for first place between the Highlanders and Whitefish Bay.

It was homecoming, and Homestead was honoring the great 2006 state title team, with many players on hand for the game.

They honored that squad the best way they knew by winning in a strikingly old-fashioned way, 29-12, in a game that clinched the outright league title for the Highlanders.

They did the same things they've done ever since 2001, when their long streak of outright or shared league crowns began.

They overcame mistakes, got clutch defensive stops when they needed and ran the ball with great effectiveness, rushing for 360 yards on 46 carries, including 169 yards on 23 carries for senior back Bradley Woldt and 168 yards on 16 carries from senior quarterback Eric Zoeller.

"We've just been there many times," said senior linebacker Michael Fehrenbach. "We just did what we always do, play classic Homestead defense. We know it's never going to be easy with Bay. They're almost a crosstown rival for us, always coming for us."

But Homestead was ready for the Blue Dukes, improving to 6-0 in the North Shore Conference (7-1 overall) while Bay fell to 4-2 and 5-3, respectively.

In the end, Blue Duke coach Jake Wolter said a lot of things went wrong, including the inability to get off the field defensively and to finish drives.

"They did run the ball quite effectively," he said. "But we had the opportunities to stay on top of things, and we didn't take advantage of them. We were inside the 10 or 15 a few times, and things could have gone better for us."

Key points came early and often. Both teams drove deep into the other's territory in the first half, only to come away with nothing, but late in the first half, it looked like a good Homestead run was going to be called back for a holding penalty. But just as the officials were going to mark the yardage, they elected to wave it off, much to the consternation of the Blue Dukes. Three plays later, Woldt ran it in from 35 yards out and got the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.

Two series later, Bay's Noah Ailing recovered a Homestead fumble on the Highlanders 37, and five plays later, quarterback Cade Garcia hit Michael Kirkendoll won a 21-yard touchdown pass to make it 8-6 at the break.

Bay got another opportunity early in the second half when Blue Dukes defensive back David Thompson picked off a tipped pass at the Homestead 48. The Blue Dukes got to the Homestead 5, but big Homestead defensive tackle Jordan Schroeder (6-4, 305) forced a fumble that defensive end Jake Raddatz pounced on at the 14.

And this is when "classic" Homestead football came to the fore. Zoeller only completed two passes on the night, but one of them came just three plays later as he hit end Drew Crabbe on a 54-yard pass down to the Blue Dukes 10. Two plays later, Woldt thundered in from the 2, and Homestead was firmly in control at 15-6 with 2:57 left in the third.

Homestead coach Dave Keel said the turnaround was pivotal.

"That was just really key to the game tonight," he said. "Schroeder and Raddatz forced the fumble, and then Eric (Zoeller) made a great play (on the pass). He's just a special kid. Coach (Drake) Zortman, with the help of his quarterback, made some real nice adjustments that led us to success in the second half."

A series later, after another Bay drive ended with a missed field goal, Zoeller got to show how special he was when he finished an eight-play drive with a 37-yard burst up the middle on a quarterback iso play, making the score 22-6 with 8:20 left in the game.

"I love that play," said a smiling Zoeller. "I really have to thank the coaches for that one. The offensive line did just a great job, and Brad (Woldt) just leads me right through the hole."

Bay hung tough, despite losing some players to injuries in the hard-hitting game. They Blue Dukes finished off an 80-yard drive with an 11-yard Garcia to Alex Anthony pass with 6:44 to go. The conversion failed, and it was 22-12. The Bay onside kick didn't quite work, and two plays later, Zoeller put the game on ice with a 41-yard explosion down the right sideline for the game-clinching score with 5:48 left.

"It took us (the offense) a little while to get going, but then we just fed off what the defense was doing and then we found a rhythm," Zoeller said. "This (the conference title) never gets old, either. It's always a new team with a new opportunity."

Garcia did hit 20 of 36 passes for 271 yards and two TDs. including eight catches for 78 yards by Anthony and five for 73 by Kirkendoll, but Bay rushed for only 72 yards on 18 tries.

"We knew Garcia liked to get out of the pocket and roll out," said Fehrenbach. "We knew our defensive ends had to stay strong and they did."

A frustrated Wolter said Bay would be ready for its regular season closer next week.

"We're a little angry," he said, "but we'll get back to work and get back on track and be ready to go."

Homestead will be ready for its season closer too, and of course the WIAA playoffs where it seeks to defend its WIAA state D2 title.

"There are obviously a lot of things we can improve on," said Zoeller, "but I really like where we're going."

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