Homestead coach Chad Zolman said he had told his team ahead of the game that the side that played hardest, longest, would win in the battle of unbeatens at Bishop Dwenger on Friday.
The Saints (3-1) battled until the end, scoring a touchdown with 30 seconds left in the game, but an onside kick attempt rolled out of bounds and the Spartans (4-0) escaped with a 17-15 victory.
“Both teams played really hard for a really long time, so we're just really glad that we were on the fortunate side of the scoreboard,” Zolman said. “It was a great game.”
Halfway through the first quarter, the Spartans scored on a 15-yard run by Braeden Hardwick. The junior running back ran almost all the way to the sideline before changing direction, dashing back to the center of the field and into the end zone. It was just one of many highlight plays for Hardwick, who finished with 215 rushing yards.
“He did a great job tonight,” Homestead quarterback Luke Goode said of Hardwick. “He's worked so hard for this, every single year. And he's just growing year by year. He's having a great season, and I'm so happy for him.”
Bishop Dwenger fumbled on its next drive, but in the final seconds of the first quarter quarterback Brenden Lytle threw a pass from the 50-yard line to a wide-open Griffin Eifert, who easily ran into the end zone. Patrick Finley ran in the 2-point conversion to put the Saints up 8-7.
Hardwick once again powered the Spartans on their next scoring drive late in the first half, capping the series with a 2-yard touchdown to give Homestead a 14-8 lead.
The Saints responded with a 72-yard return by Henry O'Keefe, but Homestead defensive back Jake Archbold neutralized the scoring opportunity by picking off Lytle in the end zone just seconds before halftime.
“That was a huge play – they made a huge return on the kickoff, and that return just kind of deflated us a little bit,” Goode said. “And then Jake Archbold – he's such a great player – is in the right place at the right time to get it.”
The score remained 14-8 through the end of the third, but the Spartans then had two drives fizzle in the red zone. The Saints blocked the first field goal attempt, but the second was good, giving Homestead a 17-8 cushion with 2:51 to go.
The Saints responded with a frantic drive which concluded when Lytle hit Patrick O'Keefe with a 10-yard touchdown pass to narrow the score to 17-15. But the miracle play the Saints needed to regain possession never came, leaving Homestead undefeated and a matchup against 4-0 Snider awaiting them Friday.
After the game, Zolman told his players he has a pretty good idea of who wins that game: Whoever plays the hardest, the longest.