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Is this the year Homestead's reign over the North Shore Conference comes to an end?

The same question has been asked each and every year of the Highlanders run of 16 straight conference championships. 

Teams have come close and many have shared the crown -- Whitefish Bay in 2015 and 2012, Germantown in 2014 and 2002 and Cedarburg in 2014, 2011 and 2002 all grabbed pieces of the conference title, but nobody has fully knocked Homestead off its perch since it went 2-4 in 2000.

If there's a team capable of taking the top spot outright from the Highlanders this season, it is Whitefish Bay. 

The Blue Dukes will host Homestead at Lubar Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 14. 

"It has been ingrained in the kids from a long time ago that Homestead is the evil empire," Whitefish Bay coach Jake Wolter said. "To me, it is just another football game because I don't want to throw all our eggs in one basket. Say we beat them or we lose to them, I don't want it to be as if our season is made or our season is over. We move on either way.

"The kids know what it is at stake. They know what a tremendous program coach (Dave) Keel has over there. It is definitely one that should be exciting when we get there. Hopefully that game does matter when we get there." 

The Blue Dukes return key pieces from one of the area's most potent offensive attacks and five All-North Shore players on the defensive side of the ball. 

Garcia, Anthony form powerful duo

Whitefish Bay put on an aerial display in 2016, as quarterback Cade Garcia burst on the scene to throw for 2,558 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions to be named the North Shore Conference Offensive Back of the Year.

His primary weapons were Michael Kirkendoll and Alex Anthony, as the duo combined for 1,832 yards and 18 touchdowns on 116 receptions. 

Kirkendoll has graduated, but Anthony is back to build upon a season in which he caught 74 passes for 1,145 yards and 12 touchdowns that led him to be the North Shore Conference co-Offensive End of the Year.

"The nice thing about this group of kids is they are so smart that we can add things and put in wrinkles and put in different things without impacting our base offense," Wolter said. "Having Cade be the leader and running the show ... he's a special, special talent."

While Garcia and Anthony are a dangerous duo in the passing game, Whitefish Bay returns its two leading rushers from a year in Bo Bassindale (998 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Patrick Nau (383 yards and eight touchdowns).

Two All-North Shore Conference offensive lineman return in second-team pick Carson Kimple and honorable-mention selection George Beatty. 

"We've got two kids that are seniors that started on the offensive line as sophomores that aren't starting this year because we have so much depth," Wolter said. "It is nice to have depth with the big guys to go along with all the skill guys."

Experienced defense

Whitefish Bay returns seven starters on defense, including six that were all-conference selections. 

First-team All-North Shore interior lineman Jordan Riley and second-team defensive end Brady Weas will anchor the defensive line. Second-team linebackers Kimple and Tommy Brunner will lead the linebackers and honorable mention defensive back Case Fleck is back in the secondary. 

The Blue Dukes have to replace both of their starting cornerbacks, including honorable mention All-State honoree Michael Kirkendoll.

Wolter believes he has filled one those holes with junior Russell Enea. The other starting corner is likely to be junior Keon Lacefield-May, who showed promise as a freshman but had to sit out his sophomore year with an injury.

"We had to replace two really good football players at cornerback," Wolter said. "We knew Enea would step up as he was kind of the next man up last year. He's stepped up and has done a nice job.

"A real bright spot is Keon Lacefield-May. He was a really good freshman player. He's really taken over at that opposite corner spot. I could see some big things out of him this year." 

New look conference

Whichever team wins the North Shore Conference title will be taking a much different path than the one Homestead has taken the past 16 seasons. 

Gone are Germantown and Milwaukee Lutheran. Entering the conference are former Wisconsin Little Ten schools Hartford, West Bend West, West Bend East and Slinger. 

With a 10-team league, North Shore schools will no longer play a nonconference game.

"It will be a challenge starting with conference games," Wolter said. "In the past, you could go into that first game and might be moving guys around to try to feel things out. Now you have to go right into the fire with a conference game. You can't be guessing who your best players are.  

"We do open with Slinger, who we have played nonconference every year for the last seven or eight years. It will be just like normal in that avenue, but now it counts."

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