KENDALLVILLE – When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to answer it. With that in mind, this was the year that the Northeast Hoosier Conference football teams could aim for in hopes of finally knocking Homestead from the league pedestal.
The Spartans have won 21 straight conference games and won or shared six consecutive league championships, so after losing a ton of talent in the record-setting 2012 senior class, the 2013 version of “Sparty” was the group that was to be taken advantage of.
Well, maybe next year. No, that probably won't be any better either.
Homestead (3-0, 1-0 NHC) opened its league schedule with an impressive 17-14 win at East Noble (2-1, 0-1) on Friday and its talent - and youth - were on display in abundance.
“Our kids showed some resilience the last couple of (games),” Homestead coach Chad Zollman said. “They are a young group and that's a good sign for us.”
It's a “good sign” for the Spartans and a bad sign for everyone else in the NHC.
Homestead rallied to score 17 unanswered points after a start that certainly demonstrated its youth, but in a negative way. The Spartans opened their initial offensive drive with a penalty on the first snap; they had poor tackling, and basically got run over by Knight senior Brandon Mable throughout the early stages of the contest.
But after allowing the Knights to stake a 14-0 first quarter lead, the Spartan defense never allowed another point over the final 40:39 and the offense got on track behind the play of several players that will be around Aboite for a long time.
“We challenged (the players) a little bit,” Zollman explained, “and they responded. The first couple of drives it looked like we were stuck in mud and we weren't moving well.”
Homestead showed its first sign of offensive life when junior quarterback Logan Ormsby (15 of 27, 228 yards, one touchdown and one interception) hit sophomore wide receiver Austin Krider (5 receptions, 93 yards) for a long pass that he took to the one-yard line late in the opening quarter.
Ormsby finished the drive with a scoring keeper to cut the margin in half (14-7), and the youth movement wasn't finished.
In the third quarter, on a fourth-and-14 play, Ormsby coolly withstood Knight pressure and fired a strike over the middle to another sophomore receiver (Ben Skowronek), who immediately took a shot from an East Noble safety.
But he didn't go down.
Skowronek (5 catches, 63 yards) maintained his balance and sprinted for the corner of the end zone and the score was tied.
“Ben's a pretty good receiver,” Zollman said. “He's shown us in practice what he can do. He does that all of the time.”
Skowronek wasn't finished with big-time plays.
He caught a pass for a first down late in the third period to keep a Spartan drive alive and with less than two minutes remaining in the tied game, he tip-toed on the sideline while hauling in a perfectly placed pass from Ormsby for another first down.
“Just focus on catching it and know that you're going to take a hit,” Skowronek said of his thought process behind making critical receptions. “You got to focus and catch the ball.”
Homestead claimed its first and only lead of the night with just over a minute remaining when junior Jack Dugan booted a 25-yard field goal from a difficult angle on the right hash mark.
To seal the victory, as it had the entire second half, the Homestead defense stymied the Knights (East Noble generated just 13 yards of offense in the final half) and came away with the Knight Nation frustrated for the eight time in nine seasons against the Spartans.
“We are very, very young,” Zollman said. “To see these kids fight, and fight back from a two touchdown deficit and take the win, especially at the end with a young kicker doing that job, it was just a very satisfying win for our group.”