First off, apologies to everyone who has followed me for my month-long hiatus from the blog. Life has been interesting and I have been pursuing several opportunities in my field.
Thank you to Referee Magazine, the West Bend Daily News, The Ozaukee News Graphic and The Waukesha Freeman for keeping me busy. It has been a breath of fresh air and I am grateful for everything.
Now onto brass tacks.
The 26-0 thumping that the 5-0 Whitefish Bay football team delivered to 16-time North Shore Conference champion and long-time nemesis Homestead at Lubar Stadium on Sept. 14 represented many things.
It was not only the first shutout loss for Homestead in five years but as well documented in local media (please look for my story on the game in the Ozaukee News Graphic this week), it puts Homestead in serious danger of not winning or sharing the North Shore Conference title for the first time since the last year of the Clinton administration in 2000.
I couldn’t help but notice the Blue Dukes happily celebrating just off of the east end zone, taking selfies and slapping high 5s. It reminded me of a similar celebration five years ago in 2012, when the Blue Dukes last beat the Highlanders. It was also back at Lubar and was an even larger seismic shift than this most recent victory.
That night, impossibly mentally tough Blue Duke quarterback Grant Menard scored two TDs against a stout Homestead defense and then a Jackson Weber-led Bay defense proved to be even tougher as the Blue Dukes won a 14-7 decision to clinch a share of the NSC title.
It was their their crown in over a decade.
They celebrated long and loud on the field too that night, as David had indeed slew Goliath.
As now, those Blue Dukes, then led by the late force of nature and WFCA Hall of Famer Jim Tietjen, expected to win that game. The talent was deep (running back Rashadeem Gray is still one of the best all-around athletes I have ever covered) and the will, forged by Tietjen through an innovative training regime’ and a relentless desire to make the Blue Dukes a force not only in the area, but the state, was second-to-none.
What made that 2012 season almost absolutely perfect, was that Bay came up just short of making it an all-North Shore WIAA D2 state final when it lost an amazing state semifinal decision to Waunakee. Menard, who suffered an injury late in the game, stood his ground and continued to fire darts on one leg all the way to the end.
I still remember the great former Wisconsin State Journal writer Dennis Semrau coming up to Menard after the game as Menard was getting treatment on the bench, giving him a fist bump and telling him “You impressed me, sir!”
Homestead won the D2 title that year, but Bay fans will always ask ‘What-if?”
Just like they did five years earlier in 2007, on the dedication night for the then new turf field at Bay. The ceremony, fueled by a strongly partisan speech from area philanthropist, Bay Hall of Famer and stadium backer Sheldon Lubar, got everyone fired up.
And Bay responded, taking what would be an eventual state finalist Highlander team to overtime. Bay grabbed the lead with a TD on its initial possession in overtime and had the Highlanders on the ropes forcing a fourth down play on their possession, but Homestead end Justin Howard lunged over the goal line (or did he as Bay fans will always argue?) on a pass from Casey Barnes and the Highlanders had new life
The two-point conversion run was good and Homestead escaped with a 15-14 win.
Fast-forward to today.
That 2012 team is widely considered as Bay’s best team ever, but this year’s group, which will host area rival but winless Nicolet on Friday, Sept. 22, has a chance to be even better.
It has a very favorable schedule ahead of it with a chance at not only ending Homestead’s streak of league titles but also finishing up with an unbeaten regular season and an almost certain top seed in the WIAA playoffs.
After the 26-0 win, quarterback Cade Garcia, a veteran (as many of the Blue Dukes are), of two tough losses to Homestead last season, including a heartbreaker in level 3 of the state playoffs, celebrated with his teammates.
But he, like his coach Jake Wolter, was already looking ahead to the big picture.
As noted, he and his teammates, such as dominant all-state level receiver Alex Anthony, and tough-as-nails role players such as Tommy Brunner, Case Fleck and Bo Bassindale, expected to win this game.
Just like they expect to win every time out.
“This feels amazing,” said Garcia. “The crowd, the students, everything. We just trusted the game-plan tonight and it really worked out. We just tried to put pressure on them every play.”
“You couldn’t have scripted this any better,” Wolter said. “We expected a dogfight, but our defense really came to play. They were just phenomenal. We preach aggressiveness (on both offense and defense) and that’s what we brought tonight.
“…We really did (think this could happen). We’re not shy about this. We’re happy now but this is not unexpected. We wanted this bad, but we want more.”
“…We beat them tonight and that’s great, but we can’t get complacent,” added Garcia.