Homestead remained undefeated on a cold, rainy night, but coach Chad Zolman still had to give a bit of pep talk afterward.
The Spartans' 20-7 home win Friday over winless Norwell had been much tougher than the players expected. It was more relief than excitement at game's end, as if they'd dodged an huge upset. Maybe they had.
“It's a battle every time we play Norwell,” Zolman said. “I never feel like we're safe. It feels like a grind every year. They did a good job controlling the clock when they had the ball, taking possessions out of our hands. The weather kind of equalized things. But give credit to Norwell. They had a good game plan and we were glad to get out of here with a win.”
Homestead exited with more than a hard-fought win, however. Combined with East Noble's 17-0 win over New Haven, the Spartans clinched at least a share of the Northeast Hoosier Conference title. Homestead (8-0, 6-0 NHC) can win it outright by beating New Haven next Friday.
The Spartans will also find out who they play in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs when the pairings are released Sunday night.
Zolman has been down this road before, making sure his team remains focused on the here and now while big games loom on the horizon.
“We're still trying to improve,” Zolman said. “Each week, we have to get better. Offensively, we stubbed our toes (vs. Norwell) and that's not characteristics of us. We want to be playing our best football come tournament time. That's our whole goal. New Haven will be a good test for us, they're very good and that will get our minds into the tournament mentality.”
Homestead scored on its first drive, with Matt Skowronek hitting Seth Coate on a three-yard pass. Kam Hladish added a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Norwell (0-8, 0-6 NHC) had a chance to score in the first half, with Piercen Harnish throwing a 41-yard completion to Nathan Shelton to set up first-and-goal inside the Homestead 10. But the Spartans defense tighted up, and Logan Ormsby intercepted a fourth-down pass to quell the scoring threat.
“Ormsby made a good play on the ball,” Zolman said. “That was very big. That could have changed the whole tone of the game.”
Homestead extended its lead to 17-0 in the third quarter, with Wyatt Butcher scoring on a 20-yard run.
Norwell got on the board early in the fourth quarter, with a 55-yard double-reverse pass from Harnish to Cale Schumm setting up a subsequent touchdown pass from Harnish to William Gerber.
Hladish, the Homestead backup kicker, nailed a 42-yarder late in the game for Homestead's last points.
Homestead finished with 206 yards in total offense, including 119 yards rushing by Frank Martin, while Norwell had 196 yards in offense in one of its best performances of the year. Harnish was 7-of-11 passing for 119 yards and rushed for 59. The Knights were hurt by three turnovers.