Hard-nosed effort in nail-biting loss to Homestead underscores Grafton football team’s new attitude
Near misses can’t be much more frustrating than the Grafton football team’s failed upset bid of a perennial state power last week.
Battling top-ranked Homestead to the final seconds, the Black Hawks were poised to secure their biggest win in years, only to be handed a 35-28 home loss in a North Shore Conference slugfest Sept. 12.
In overcoming a 15-point first-half deficit, Grafton rallied to take a 28-21 lead with less than eight minutes to play. Homestead countered, scoring two touchdowns in the final 3:44 and withstanding a last-ditch drive by the Hawks to secure the victory.
“It was a tremendous football game,” said Grafton coach Ben Chossek, whose team put a major scare into the defending WIAA Division 2 state champion.
“We felt when we took the lead in the fourth quarter that we really had an opportunity to win. But it wasn’t an error that cost us the game. Homestead just came back to make some big plays at the end.”
The Hawks had plenty of big plays themselves, most notably three touchdown passes by quarterback Choo Weisflog that put his team in position for a stunning win. After throwing a 15-yard scoring strike to tight end Beau Benzschawel in the second quarter, Weisflog tossed an 80-yard touchdown pitch to Alex Gall midway through the third quarter that pulled Grafton within 21-20.
In the final period, Weisflog capped a five-play, 90-yard drive with a 28-yard scoring pass to halfback Alex Teich to put the Hawks ahead. Benzschawel then caught a two-point conversion pass from Weisflog, and the Hawks owned a 28-21 lead with 7:33 left.
But coach Dave Keel’s Highlanders didn’t flinch, responding with a nine-play, 57-yard march to the end zone. After quarterback Nick Allen’s 1-yard keeper pulled Homestead to within 28-27, a two-point conversion pass failed.
Clinging to the lead, Grafton had a chance to run out the clock. However, when a third-down halfback option pass failed, the Hawks had to punt, setting the stage for another Homestead drive.
“We knew we had to play aggressively to give ourselves a chance. That halfback pass just missed,” Chossek said.
The Highlanders responded again, this time mounting the winning drive, which covered 55 yards. Out of time-outs, Grafton realized Homestead could run the clock down before scoring a touchdown or kicking a field goal and let Eric Wade have a 5-yard touchdown run with 53 seconds left, Chossek said.
“We talked it over and allowed them to score. That at least gave us a chance to go for a touchdown ourselves,” he said.
It nearly happened, too. Starting at their own 28, the Hawks mounted a last-ditch drive that reached the Homestead 5. With seven seconds left, Weisflog threw an apparent touchdown pass to Gall, but the score was wiped out when Gall was called for stepping out of bounds before the catch.
After the Hawks were assessed a 15-yard penalty, their shot for a miracle comeback ended with two incomplete passes.
“It was a great effort by our kids. I can’t say enough about how hard they played and hung in there against a team like Homestead,” Chossek said.
“They did everything they could to give themselves a chance to win.”
In addition to Weisflog, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 278 yards, the Hawks got an outstanding effort from Teich. The junior rushed for a game-high 142 yards on just nine carries, including a 58-yard touchdown burst in the second period, and had four catches for 84 yards.
Benzschawel had four receptions for 86 yards, and Gall had 95 yards on two catches.
Chossek gave sideline credit for Grafton’s potent passing attack to assistant coach Mike Brodie, who he said has worked hard with Weisflog and the receiving corps.
“Mike has been outstanding at helping the kids understand the passing game,” Chossek said. “It’s made a huge difference in our offense.”
Homestead, which improved to 4-0 overall, surrendered 461 yards to Grafton’s aggressive offense. However, the Highlanders had 422 yards themselves, including 321 on the ground. Wade had 131 rushing yards on 19 carries, and Allen added 98 yards on 11 attempts.
Despite a loss that dropped the Hawks to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in NSC play, Chossek said he has noticed a different attitude in his players this season. There was no shortage of confidence against a foe as formidable as Homestead, he noted.
“In the past, we would get down in games like this and be unable to come back. That’s changed,” he said.
“Our kids were upset after losing. They’re not content to just get close. They want to win these games no matter who they play.”
The Hawks’ next challenge will find them in another underdog role this Thursday when they travel to Whitefish Bay for a 7 p.m. conference game.
Image Information: ALEX GALL hauled in one of his four receptions during Grafton’s North Shore Conference game against Homestead last week. The senior had a 80-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough to keep Homestead from rallying for 35-28 win. Photo by Sam Arendt