This beautiful pass breakup from Aidan O’Connor kept the Wolverines in the game during a tough first quarter.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
With their senior captain quarterback unavailable, Westwood sophomore Brendan Donegan had to make his varsity debut on the road against Norwood. But while he grew more comfortable as the game went on and turned what looked like a surefire blowout into a reasonably tight game, a few mistakes and a strong Mustang running game ultimately led to a 32-19 Norwood victory, dropping Westwood to 0-3 on the season.
The first quarter was brutal for the Wolverine offense. After Westwood failed to move the ball effectively on their first possession, Norwood ran the ball down the field, culminating the drive with a Robert Wladkowski touchdown. Westwood got the ball back and went three-and-out with a pair of incomplete passes and a three yard run. A beautiful pass deflection by Aidan O’Connor on Norwood’s ensuing play-action bomb kept the Mustangs from completely seizing the momentum, but when they stopped the drive and got the ball back inside the fifteen, the Wolverines went from three-and-outs to two-and-outs, with Donegan being sacked at the one and the team opting to have him pooch punt on 3rd and 20 rather than throw from his own end zone. Still, due to Norwood missing its extra point, it was just a one-possession game at the end of the first quarter: 6-0, Norwood.
Things didn’t get much better early in the second quarter for the Wolverines. Norwood almost immediately scored on a 39 yard touchdown run from Christian Sales, with the Mustangs adding a successful point after this time, to lead 13-0. After a couple completions from Donegan to Kyle Burgess, the ensuing Westwood drive ended on the Mustang thirty, when a fourth down pass was nearly intercepted but just knocked down. After Norwood took the ball on downs and immediately broke off a seventy-yard Christian Sales touchdown run, Brendan Fay broke up the pass on the two-point conversion and Norwood led, 19-0, with about seven minutes to go.
Fay would then start making some offense of his own, with a couple nice runs on the ensuing Westwood possession before Westwood started almost alternating good plays with bad. Westwood would fumble, but recover the ball. Then Shea Loughnane would make a diving catch. Then Westwood would fumble again, but again get it back, this time with Thomas Mahoney recovering it. After the bad came the very good, when Donegan dropped a dime into Aidan O’Connor’s hands for a long touchdown. The Wolverines were down, 19-7.
A fumble recovery from Brian Farrell gave Westwood great field position with a little under three minutes left in the half, before some Fay runs placed the ball at the one with 49 seconds until the break. But as kept happening, Westwood went from the good back to the bad - a false start on what was going to be an easy quarterback sneak for a touchdown moved the Wolverines back to the five, before Donegan would fumble on a third-down scramble.
While credit should go to Kyle Burgess for running the defender down and preventing Norwood from placing the Wolverines in an insurmountable hole, this combination of a penalty and fumble was tough for the Wolverines, who were putting the pressure on the home team for the first time all game.
“In high school, momentum is huge, and we had momentum on our side,” Coach Brad Pindel would say after the game when asked about the rough turn of events. “Unfortunately, we turned the ball over and it was a huge momentum swing. Obviously it wasn’t on purpose - they were just battling for every yard they could get. Norwood's kid made a great play swiping at the ball and unfortunately, we turned it over.”
In the second half, Westwod’s run defense became an issue, while the offense started to get going. After a failed onside, kick Norwood ran the ball, and perhaps more importantly for them, ran the clock until they scored with 6:55 left in the third quarter, stretching their lead to 25-7.
But Donegan really got going soon after, when the Wolverines moved to a faster tempo on offense. The sophomore distributed the ball to Thomas Mahoney and George Maroun, before a rollout touchdown pass to Shea Loughnane capped off a less than three-minute drive that had had the Wolverines once again down only two touchdowns, 25-13.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Westwood could not stop Norwood's drive, a six-minute effort almost exclusively on the ground. By the time the Mustangs punched in the touchdown (again on a run), Westwood just didn’t have enough time to mount a comeback.
“They’re a big, physical team who likes to pound the rock." Pindel explained. "The issue is when you fall behind like that, your possessions are going to be limited. We tried to capitalize on every offensive possession we had but a long drive like that is going to limit the number of times we touch the ball.”
After Robert Wladkowski picked Donegan off, Westwood recovered a fumble and the young QB completed a nice touchdown pass to Aidan O’Connor with a little under two minutes left in the game. Unfortunately for Westwood, it was too little, too late; the Wolverines lost, 32-19.
After the game coach Pindell noted how good Norwood was, explaining: “We played a very physical team. They are big, they’re physical, they’re athletic, they’re loaded this year and we came and gave it everything we had. Our kids battled hard and we just came up a little short.”
Still, while he also talked about how grateful the team is just to be playing football this season, on the field, he was very impressed by his debuting quarterback.
“Brendan Donegan, my sophomore quarterback, stepped in. My senior captain wasn’t able to come today, so he stepped up, and this was his first start, and he threw three touchdown passes. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from him. He really stepped up as a player. He played hard, he took a pounding since they have a fierce pass rush, but he took his hits and stood in there. I thought he played out of his mind. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”