As of Tuesday, Nov. 8, Homestead football coach Dave Keel, his offensive coordinator and resident genius Drake Zortman and anybody wearing Highlander red and white were all working on theories as to how to make the offense work with star quarterback Eric Zoeller on the sidelines with a broken collarbone.
The defending D2 state champions will have to figure it out quickly, as they will take on high-powered Monona Grove (10-2) in a WIAA D2 state semifinal at Oconomowoc at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, with the winner heading to Camp Randall Stadium on Friday, Nov. 18, for the D2 state championship against the winner of Menomonie and Brookfield East.
Zoeller suffered the injury late in the first half of the Highlanders' thrillling 27-24 Level 3 playoff victory over rival Whitefish Bay on Nov. 4 (see separate story).
Keel said, as of earlier in the week, it's the players who are bucking up the morale of the coaches, not the other way around.
"Right now, it's a challenging situation," Keel said. "We've dug ourselves out of a hole in other challenging situations, but it is difficult. But our senior leaders like Michael Fehrenbach and Bradley Woldt have really kept us going forward. The kids are really holding the coaches up.
"When something like that happens, that always makes you feel really good."
They'll brace themselves with those good feelings as they prepare to take on the high-octane Silver Eagles of Monona Grove. They're a team that's not big on defense (a crazy, 57-56 mid-season victory over Fort Atkinson just to name one instance), but they can score in bunches, and they're not afraid to roll the dice.
They defeated Waukesha West, 43-42, in their Level 3 playoff game, going for two and the win and then getting it after they punched in their overtime TD. They gained 568 yards in that game, as quarterback Alec Ogden threw for 379 yards and five TDs. Receiver Andryl Nahirniak had five catches for 221 yards in that game, while Jackson Thomsen, who ran in the decisive two-point conversion, rushed for 140 yards.
Ogden threw 31 TD passes out of the Silver Eagles' spread formation offense and also ran for 560 yards. Thomsen rushed for 1,182 yards and 10 TDs, and Nahirniak caught 53 passes for 1,104 yards (20 plus a catch) and 13 TDs.
"They're just a very athletic football team on both sides of the ball," Keel said. "On offense, that kid (Ogden) is just a special talent. He can throw it to anywhere on the field, and he can score from anywhere on the field."
The Highlanders will try to counter with a stingy defense that held a potent Bay attack to just three points in the second half after falling behind, 21-20, at the break. Opponents have been held to single digits five times, and only three opponents have broken out of the teens against Homestead.
As noted, the Highlanders will try to adapt offensively. Last season, all-state level defensive back and receiver Jack Popp broke a bone in his arm in the playoffs but fought back to compete in the state title win against Waukesha West. Among their QB options are sophomore Julius Wilkerson and Woldt running some things out of a wildcat formation. Both were used to some good effect against Bay in the second half on Nov. 5.
"It's the second year in a row we've been challenged like that in the playoffs," Keel said. "Right now, we're looking at options."