Falcons get turnover in final 30 seconds to earn first win

By Troy Sparks

Westosha Central’s defense faced crunch time with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and delivered last Friday night.

The Falcons forced a fumble on a third-down play with visiting Delavan-Darien 9 yards away from a possible game-tying field goal or a game-winning touchdown.

Central escaped with a 20-17 Southern Lakes Conference victory, its first win of the season and third straight league win over the Comets.

“I guess I was in the right place at the right time,” senior defensive back Riley Burbach said after recovering the fumble. “It turned out great. We got a big win here.”

Central (1-1 in conference, 1-3 overall) shut down the Delavan-Darien offense in the first half, and the Falcons’ offense gained momentum after halftime.

Delavan-Darien began its first possession at its 20-yard line and got as far as the Westosha Central 28 before two holding penalties and a quarterback sack took the Comets out of field goal range.

The Comets (0-2, 1-3) got the ball back on a Westosha fumble with 3 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first quarter. A holding penalty on a first-and-goal at the Westosha 10 pushed them back 10 yards and the visitors settled for a 27-yard field goal from senior Mateo Morales on fourth down to lead 3-0 at the 1:40 mark.

Penalties and turnovers stalled possible scoring drives for both teams in the second quarter, which didn’t produce any points.

“In the first half, the defense kept us in the game,” Central coach Tyson Mengel said. “Offensively, we weren’t doing much.”

Little details prevented Delavan-Darien from breaking the game open while keeping Central within striking range.

“We had some plays and mistakes that were a penalty or a miscommunication,” Delavan-Darien coach Hank Johnson said. “And it hurt us in the first half. We were happy going into the half (ahead) 3-0, but we knew that we left a lot of points on the board multiple times.”

The Falcons moved from their 30 to the Delavan-Darien 39 on their first drive of the second half. The Falcons were in punt formation on a fourth-and-9, but senior running back Tyme Eppers, also the team’s punter, caught Delavan-Darien’s special teams off guard and ran 10 yards for a first down to the 29 to keep the drive alive.

Sophomore running back Jakob Simmons ran 22 yards on first down to the 7 and reached the end zone on the next play. The extra point kick gave the Falcons their first lead at 7-3 with 10:14 left.

Senior receiver Julian Rodriguez fumbled the ensuing kickoff for the Comets, which sophomore Colten Tramburg recovered for Westosha.

The Falcons needed four plays to score their second touchdown on a 28-yard pass from senior quarterback Gavin Carlson to sophomore receiver Michael Mulhollon, who used his 6-foot-4 height advantage to leap over 5-8 Delavan-Darien defensive back Payton McCann to catch the ball.

The failed two-point conversion kept Central’s margin at 13-3 with 8:30 left in the quarter.

“That was a big game changer,” Mulhollon said. “It really starts with the O-line and the pass protection. Early on, we really couldn’t get the pass protection. But as the game went on, we got better pass protection, which led to Gavin to be able to get the ball to me and make the play.”

The Falcons completed their scoring with a minute remaining in the third quarter on a 65-yard pass to Mulhollon to lead 20-3 and put them in the driver’s seat.

But DDHS mounted a comeback with 56 seconds left in the third. The Comets got a big play on first down from the Central 42 on a pass from quarterback Oliver Hetzel to fellow senior receiver Mateo Morales that covered 27 yards and put them in the red zone at the 15.

After a 5-yard gain on second down to end the third quarter, Hetzel and Morales connected again on the first play of the fourth for a 10-yard touchdown with 11:55 remaining in the game to cut Central’s advantage to 20-10.

The visitors began their second possession of the fourth quarter with 6:55 left and moved the ball quickly on 14-yard receptions to Morales and Rodriguez and a 15-yard run from Hetzel to set up their second TD.

The eight-play, 79-yard drive ended on senior receiver Jay Greenwald’s 1-yard catch with 5:08 remaining to make it 20-17.

“That fourth quarter was a little bit nerve-wracking,” Mengel said. “But I’ll tell you what. This group did not panic. And that’s something that we don’t traditionally see. And as a coach, seeing that, that’s refreshing.”

Westosha Central fans sat on the edge of their seats when Delavan-Darien got the ball back at its 37 with 1:41 left.

A big 33-yard reception by junior receiver Rolando Cerros to the Central 14 set the stage for one final push for the Comets. But the hosts earned a much-needed win with the crucial turnover.

“The fourth quarter, (Delavan-Darien) was taking shots at us, but our defense picked it up when we needed it,” Mengel said.

Central travels to Waterford to face the Wolverines on Friday.

Game summary
DDHS 3 0 0 14 – 17
Central 0 0 20 0 – 20
First quarter – DD Mateo Morales 27 field goal, 3-0, 1:40.
Third quarter – WC Jakob Simmons 7 run (Ben LeFebve kick), 7-3, 10:14. WC Michael Mulhollon 28 pass from Gavin Carlson (failed run), 14-3, 8:30. WC Michael Mulhollon 65 pass from Gavin Carlson (Ben LeFebve kick), 20-3, 1:00.
Fourth quarter – DD Mateo Morales 10 pass from Oliver Hetzel (Mateo Morales kick), 20-10, 11:55. DD Jay Greenwald 1 pass from Oliver Hetzel (Mateo Morales kick), 20-17, 5:08.
Total offense: DD 332, WC 240. Leading Rushers (att-yds-tds): DD Ross Gengler 13-77 WC Jakob Simmons 10-57-1. Passing (comp/att-yds-tds-int): DD Oliver Hetzel 16-26-209-2-0. WC Gavin Carlson 4-13-110-2-0. Leading Receivers (rec-yds-tds): WC Michael Mulhollon 2-93-2. DD Mateo Morales 4-62-1, Rolando Cerros 3-59, Jay Greenwald 4-47-1.


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