The execution clearly was not there for much of Friday night's intense, entertaining yet sloppy football game at Nicolet High School.
But the passion and the desire to win was certainly there, as visiting Shorewood/Messmer held off a last chance drive by the host Knights for a 21-14 victory in a contest matching a pair of programs always fighting for respectability.
"They were hungry; we were hungry too," said Greyhounds' coach Chad Hofmann. "They were coming a big win (over Waukesha South) and we were coming off a tough loss (to Milwaukee King). Both of us wanted it badly."
First-year Nicolet coach Al Moroder agreed as his Knights, who broke a four-year old losing streak on Aug. 19 with that win over South, were looking for their first 2-0 start in decades.
"We started to get off the ball in the second half," said Moroder. "We responded and revived ourselves. Under really tough circumstances, too, the kids took things to heart. They worked hard and made it tough on a team that was up two scores on us at the half (21-7)."
That belief brought out corresponding support.
The concession stand had high-level food, the cheerleaders were at maximum volume, the student section was large and noisy and the Nicolet players and coaches were engaged start to finish in a way that had not been seen for some time at a Nicolet game.
And everyone saw a game that had good intensity throughout, as both teams finished their nonconference campaign at 1-1.
Shorewood/Messmer won the turnover battle and won the game. They recovered a Knights fumble on the Nicolet 32 on the first series and then overcame a holding penalty to score eight plays later as senior quarterback Joe Friedman hit sophomore end Aaron Eimers on a 20-yard touchdown pass in the front corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
But Nicolet responded almost immediately, as state placewinning track star Dakari Williams took the ball around left end for 67 yards just three plays later for the tying score.
A sequence later, Nicolet had a chance to take the lead, driving to the Greyhounds 33 before turning it over on downs.
The Knights defense held, but the subsequent punt was muffed, giving Shorewood/Messmer the ball on the Nicolet 21. Friedman hit end Dominic Fazio for 7 yards on fourth down to give the Greyhounds a first down on the Nicolet 11, and two plays later, Friedman dashed in from 2 yards for a 14-7 lead with 5:59 left in the half.
"Those were key opportunities that we had to advantage of," said Hofmann.
The Greyhounds took advantage of one more short field for their final score of the night, as a short punt gave the ball on the Knights 42 with 1:57 left in the half. They earned a key pass interference penalty, and Friedman drew the Knights offside on a 4th and 2 with a hard count to pick up a valuable first down.
With just 22 seconds remaining, Friedman found the four-sport athlete Eimers on a deep fade for 33-yards and a TD to make it 21-7.
The defense kept the Knights in the game, forcing a fumble to open the third quarter and partially blocking a field goal.
"I really thought the kids answered the bell in the second half and tried to make plays," said Moroder.
Two sequences later, behind quarterback Jack Hansen, Nicolet put together a nine-play 82-yard drive. Keno Scott burst off the right side for 16 yards and the end zone to bring the Knights to within 21-14 with 3:39 left.
The inspired Knights defense then pushed Shorewood/Messmer back seven yards on the next three plays and got the ball back with 1:59 left on the Nicolet 43.
Some plays later, a Hansen scramble got the ball to the Greyhounds 36, but with only 10 seconds left to play. With only 2 seconds to go, Hansen raced to his left and heaved it towards the end zone, but it was off the mark as the final whistle sounded.
"We wanted a crisp and clean game," said Hofmann. "We didn't get there, but we will." Top defensive playmakers for both teams included junior defensive end Jared Tillman for the Knights and senior linebacker Lael Thompson for the Greyhounds.
The Knights actually out-gained the Greyhounds, 292-172, as Williams rushed for 115 yards on 12 carries with one TD and a fumble, Hansen gained 80 yards on 14 tries, and Scott had 66 yards on nine carries.
"I know Dakari (Williams) was trying to make a big play (on that fumble) and nine times out of 10, he will make that play," said Moroder, "He's a game-breaker, and I want him to have the freedom to try to make plays when he can."
Overall, Moroder is pleased that the Knights are keeping to their four core values of focus, commitment, strength and speed.
"We're sitting at 1-1 heading into conference play," he said. "I'm proud of their effort so far."
As was Hofmann of the Greyhounds.
"We knew that this was make or break kind of game for us," he said. "Last week hurt, but I knew that we'd bounce back. Winning the turnover battle was key."