Shorewood/Messmer wasn’t expected to compete for the Woodland East conference title prior to the start of the 2016 season. But, with just two regular season games remaining before the crossover part of the schedule, the Greyhounds control their own destiny, after knocking off Whitnall on the road Sept. 16, 21-19.

“Everyone in our family knew about our team and that we had a good chance to compete for the conference championship,” Shorewood/Messmer head coach Chad Hofmann said. “A lot of people outside of our community don’t know us. They don’t give us a lot of credit because of our history. Obviously, they haven’t watched the recent history, because we’ve come a long way.

“I hope we are starting to open some eyes in the community and they’re going to give us some credit.”

The Falcons (3-2, 2-1) had a shot to tie the game with less than six minutes remaining after Zachary Peliska picked off Shorewood/Messmer quarterback Joe Friedman on Whitnall’s 49-yard line.

Whitnall’s offense marched down the field and scored a touchdown on a 9-yard TD pass by Jacob Flores to receiver Dan Alexopoulos, who reached the ball across the goal line as he was tackled, for the score. The Falcons trailed the Greyhounds by two with 3:45, but the 2-point conversion failed.

“I will give Shorewood some credit, they played really well,” Whitnall head coach John Quinlan said. “It just kind of set us for a little bit of a loop there with trying to put things together with injuries. A couple of bounces went against us. We struggled a little offensively with different personnel (due to injuries).”

Whitnall lost leading rusher Marcus Arteaga at the 9:15 mark in the first quarter to injury. Teammates carried him off the field, and he didn’t return the remainder of the game.

“It looks like a high (right) ankle sprain,” Quinlan said. “I don’t know for sure yet. He could be out 1 to 3 weeks.”

Trailing 10-7 at the half, the Greyhounds (4-1, 3-0) took control of the momentum in the first minute of the third quarter when they recovered Flores’ fumble on the Falcons’ 17-yard line.

Two plays later, Shorewood/Messmer running back Grant Brown broke through arm tackles and walked into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to put the Greyhounds up, 14-10, following the extra point, with 11:11 remaining in the third quarter.

“That was huge coming out of half, and that was our goal,” Hofmann said. “In fact, we actually talked about that and said, ‘Hey, that ball is ours for the taking. We’re going to get it. We’re going to go march down and score and take this lead, and we aren’t giving it back.’  That was definitely a turning point.”

Brown put the offense on his back and finished the night with 29 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

“He is an athlete,” Hofmann said of Brown. “Phenomenal speed, phenomenal feet. He’s just a playmaker. He works his tail off, and he really works hard all the time. He’s a leader. We trust our leader, and we trust Grant every time. He has some special athletic ability.”

Despite an impressive performance, Brown gave all the recognition to his offensive line.

“At the end of the day, I don’t want to take the credit,” Brown said. “With my linemen blocking for me, it was ridiculous. I felt like they played their hearts out for me. I’m almost emotional because people don’t realize how much I love playing this game.”

The Falcons had chances to score throughout the night, but they didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.

In the first quarter, Whitnall settled for a field goal after failing to score a touchdown on three straight plays from inside Shorewood/Messmer’s 4-yard line.

It was the same story for the Falcons late in the third quarter when they had three straight plays inside the Greyhounds’ 10-yard line and didn’t get the ball past the goal line, instead settling for another field goal.

“We just made a couple of mistakes on the line there,” Quinlan said. “We missed a couple of assignments. We were kind of moving it, getting 3 to 4 yards at a crack. We just didn’t get it done when we had the chances.”

Whitnall faces Greenfield (4-1, 3-0) next Friday at home, while Shorewood/Messmer plays at Brown Deer (0-5, 0-3) before squaring off against Greenfield on Sept. 30 in the last game of the Woodland East schedule, with the chance to take first in the East on the line. The winners of the two divisions play in the ninth week of the season for the overall Woodland title Oct. 13.

“We are one game at a time,” Hofmann said. “We've got Brown Deer next week, and we know that’s a big game. They are down a little bit, but we aren’t going to overlook anybody. We are playing one week at a time.”