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This is what the long list of conference titles, five WIAA state championships and an endless number of big game victories has given the Homestead football team.

Belief.

Belief that on Friday night, with injured quarterback Eric Zoeller on the sideline with his arm in a sling, the Highlanders and inexperienced sophomore quarterback Julius Wilkerson and senior running back Bradley Woldt could drive 60 yards with 5:09 to go and rally to beat a talented Whitefish Bay team.

Twelve plays later, with 20 seconds left, out of timeouts and with a fourth and goal on the Bay 3-yard line, Woldt crashed over from the three yard line to give the Highlanders a 27-24 WIAA D2, Level 3 playoff victory over the Blue Dukes. Woldt had returned kicks, punted, run the ball 30 times for a tough 82 yards and even completed one key pass on that last drive, and now he was sending Homestead into a Level 4 battle with Monona Grove for the right to appear in the state-title game.

It turned out exactly as senior running back/linebacker Michael Fehrenbach said it would. Fehrenbach, who would provide the lead block on Woldt's decisive run, came up to coach Dave Keel in the middle of a shaky Homestead third quarter and told the veteran coach:

"We got this."

"There was no sign that anyone was ever giving up," said Keel, whose team trailed 21-20 at the break and fell behind 24-20 with 5:19 to go when Bay's Zach Lichosik hit a 26-yard field goal. "Coach (Drake) Zortman (offensive coordinator) called a great game. He found a few cracks, he drew some things up in the sand. It was all about finding a way. I'm so proud of Drake.

"But it took a family to get this done tonight. A family that believes in one another."

Monona Grove, which knocked off Waukesha West in an equally wild, 43-42, decision Friday, will be the last hurdle Homestead must clear before getting a chance to defend its DIvision 2 crown. That Level 4 game will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, at Oconomowoc. Meanwhile, the junior-dominated Bay squad finished at 8-4 and will have an entire offseason to think about the opportunity that was missed.

"Our gameplan was sound both offensively and defensively," said Blue Dukes coach Jake Wolter, "but if we had done what we were capable of, we could have been up two or three scores in the first half. Give credit to Homestead, but more of what happened was on us than anything else."

But Homestead did deserve credit. The Highlanders were in shock in the second quarter, when Zoeller, who had piloted the state-title team of a year ago, went down with an arm injury when he was on the cusp of a career game. He completed 7 of 8 passes in the first half for 165 yards and touchdown passes of 38 yards to Jared Schneider and 59 yards to Matthew Hartlieb as Homestead went up both 7-0 and 13-7. The first TD was triggered by a Bay fumble on the first play from scrimmage, and the second score followed shortly after the Blue Dukes gave the Highlanders a gift of a first down on a roughing the punter penalty deep in Homestead territory.

Homestead, however, lost out on opportunities, too. The Blue Dukes stopped Homestead on successive drives on the Bay 29 and then on the three.

After that second stop on the three, Bay seized momentum back when quarterback Cade Garcia hit end Maurice David Lee III on an amazing 97-yard TD pass to give Bay a 14-13 lead with 8:53 left in the half.

It was around this time that Zoeller got hurt. But the Highlanders persevered on a drive late in the first half to take the lead back at 20-14 on a 13-yard option run by Wilkerson.

The injury to the versatile Zoeller forced Zortman to dig deep into his bag of tricks.

"I tell you, there were not many ideas left by the time we finished the game," he said. "The kids did everything  they could. They did things they weren't prepared to do, but they did them to the best of their ability."

Bay also refused to give in. Following Wilkerson's score, the Blue Dukes zipped down the field 76 yards in just six plays, as sophomore back Patrick Nau charged over from two yards out to make it 21-20 bay at the half.

Homestead continued its improvisation in the third quarter with mixed results. The Highlanders alternated Wilkerson at quarterback with Woldt in a Wildcat formation. He said he had never played quarterback in his career before.

But he had that same belief that Keel and everyone else on the Homesterad sideline was talking about.

"I mean we know everyone was down after Eric got hurt,"  he said. "Our emotions weren't where they were supposed to be, but we did what we had to do, we just kept playing."

So when the Blue Dukes had to settle for Lichosik's field goal, Homestead still had a window of opportunity.

The final drive began poorly with a Homestead motion penalty, but Woldt's 19-yard completion to Schneider provided a spark. A third-down pass interference call and a 10-yard inside reverse by Hartlieb also proved crucial.

Three plays later, the Highlanders were on the 3, with little time and few options.

Woldt said he liked the concept of the final play coming out of the huddle.

"Coach Zortman said that they use most of their best players on the right side (of their defense)," he said. "He said let's go right at them."

The play was blocked cleanly, and Woldt dove in virtually untouched to noisy bedlam at the packed house at Homestead.

Bay had a chance with three plays, but Garcia's final pass was knocked down down well short of the goal-line.

Garcia, who also hit Michael Kirkendoll with a 71-yard TD pass in the first half that tied the score at 7-7, didn't have his best percentage night (nine of 27) but still passed for 277 yards, 166 of them to Lee III, who a career night with five catches.

For Homestead, Schneider had five catches for 90 yards and Hartlieb two for 68.

Wolter couldn't help but be frustrated as the Blue Dukes missed out on just their second state semifinal appearance in school history by just a play.

"We had mistakes, penalties, we dropped a TD pass that could have given us an eight-point lead, we had our opportunities," he said. "In my eyes, we won the game in many ways, just not on the scoreboard."

Meanwhile, the believers at Homestead will move on to play another week.

"Drake (Zortman) said before that last play that we are a family," said Keel, "and the kids came off the ball as one unit."

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