Matt Skowronek walked in the locker room at halftime dealing with something new. The Homestead quarterback and the rest of the Spartans were trailing New Haven 13-10 in a game for the NHC title.
“That was the first time since I've been at Homestead we've been down at half, so it was a little different feeling for us,” Skowronek said. “But we just kept our composure there, and we came out the second half and started firing on all cylinders.”
Skowronek started strong from the first drive, throwing two 18-yard passes before running for a 16-yard touchdown. The score gave the No. 8 Spartans a lead they would never relinquish en route to a 24-13 victory to clinch the NHC title and an undefeated regular season.
“To be able to play for hardware this last game of the season is a privilege, and we know that, and that's how we approached this week: biggest game of the year for us,” said Homestead head coach Chad Zolman.
Still, approaching the game like it was the biggest didn't bring out the best start.
Homestead struck first to take a 7-0 lead after a short run from Wyatt Butcher, but New Haven controlled the rest of the first half. The Bulldogs put up 13 unanswered points on a quarterback keeper and running back Anthony Moore breaking two tackles for 44-yard touchdown. It was New Haven's last score with 1:07 left in the first half.
Zolman alluded the team might have been glancing ahead to next week's first-round sectional game against No. 3 Snider.
“I'm not sure how focused we were in the first half,” he said. “Some of the things we did, we dropped balls we normally catch, we put the ball on the ground … bad snaps, some penalties, so I don't know if we were as focused as we wanted to be coming out of the chute, but I think our kids adjusted well at halftime.”
Homestead's offense saw the return of two key seniors in Grayson Bastin and Isaac Griffith. The running back and wide receiver had missed the past few games with ankle injuries, and Griffith felt the missed time and ankle slowed him to start.
“It was really tough at first getting used to running on it, but after awhile I was getting back to almost full speed,” he said. “But we (he and Bastin) are two big parts of this team … last week felt like there was a little bit of funk that wasn't there, a little something wrong, and I told (Bastin), 'We're back. We need to be leaders of this team.'”
These two seniors weren't the one to put the game away for the Spartans, though. Up 17-13, Homestead's Frank Martin broke multiple tackles to create 32- and 23-yard runs to set up a 2-yard quarterback keeper touchdown run for Skowronek. The score gave Homestead a 24-13 lead with 3:49 remaining.
“I just felt like our team needed a boost, so I felt like I needed to pick it up and get us going, and I picked it up and got us going, and we got rolling and got the touchdown,” Martin said.
With two goals under its belt from the regular season, Homestead now can focus its full attention on Snider next week. And it's a game that has a lot of meaning for Griffith.
“It's a big thing for me because my grandpa started the Snider football program, so it's a family thing, and two years ago, you know, I was tackled at the 5-yard line after catching a pass,” Griffith said. “That leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I talk about it. I was the last play of the game. That play, I can envision everything that happened.”