NORWALK — By A.J. Hall standards, his senior year was a quiet one.
After hauling in 67 passes for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, the Norwalk High senior receiver was a marked man in 2017, but still made 45 catches for 534 yards. Only one of those catches, however, went for a touchdown.
On Thanksgiving Day, the 5-foot-8, 160-pound, sure-handed wideout made up for it, catching three touchdown passes, intercepting a pass, and leading the Bears to a 43-26 come-from-behind win over arch-rival Brien McMahon at Casagrande Field.
“It’s definitely a great feeling, having a final game like that,” Hall said. “Knowing I’ll never wear these colors again, and never play for this team again, it’s special to go out like this. There’s no other way to explain it.”
For Hall and his fellow seniors, Thursday’s win was the fourth straight over McMahon, which is the first time in the 56-year history of the rivalry that the Bears have won four in a row against the Senators.
Norwalk finishes the season 6-4 while McMahon wraps up a 1-9 campaign.
Trailing 20-6 late in the first half, Norwalk needed to mount a big comeback to get that fourth win, however.
Hall caught his first touchdown, a 15-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Kyle Gordon, with 18.8 seconds left in the first half, giving the Bears some momentum going into halftime.
“That catch by AJ, we told them, we have all that momentum now,” Norwalk coach Sean Ireland said. “If we don’t score there, I don’t know what happens. That could have been the turning point of the game.”
McMahon opened the second half with the ball, but the Senators were held to a three-and-out and Norwalk answered with another score. This time Gordon hit Hall on a 25-yard TD pass to tie the game at 20-20.
On McMahon’s ensuing drive, Hall picked off a pass by McMahon quarterback Chris Druin to set up his team’s next score.
“Honestly, I was coming up to make the tackle and I saw the ball go wide,” Hall said. “I just stuck my hand out, tipped it up and caught it. It’s focus, luck, anything.”
Gordon and Hall hooked up for a third time later in the drive, this time from 10-yards out and a 26-20 Norwalk lead.
“The second at the end of the first half was a big one,” McMahon coach AJ Albano said. “Then a lot of things happened in the second. They played better defense. We lost our big running back (Jermayne Daniel, 33 yards on 5 carries) and had to sub some people on the fly, and it just got away from us.”
Norwalk finished off the Senators in the fourth quarter as Ishwa Entzminger (12 carries, 97 yards) scored two touchdowns (1 yard and 63 yards) and the Bears defense notched a sack of Druin in the end zone for a safety.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Ireland said of the Bears making history. “Whenever you say history, for the kids, I don’t know if they know what the word history means. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, it’ll sink in that we just made history at Norwalk High.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Hall (6 catches, 90 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) was named the Pete Tucci MVP for Norwalk while Druin earned the Jack Casagrande MVP for McMahon after passing for 126 yards on a 10-for-25 effort with 1 touchdown, and rushing for 89 yards 17 and two more scores.
Druin rushed for touchdown runs of 19 and 1 yard while hitting Kelete Sherald for a 13-yard score that gave McMahon a 14-6 lead.
UNSUNG PLAYER OF THE GAME
Norwalk QB Gordon, who was 15-for-22 for 208 yards with 4 TDs and one INT. He also picked up 103 yards on the ground for the Bears.
His shook off an early game interception on Norwalk’s second drive and settled down.
“I came into the season basically not confident in myself, but with my coaching staff and my team, I grew so much as a player and as a person,” Gordon said. “My team was there to pick me up (after the interception). I just had to have the same mind set, if I throw an interception or three interceptions. We just have to win the game.”
“Just don’t panic,” Ireland said of his halftime message to his team. “We took a shot right in the mouth. We knew they were a good team. We didn’t overlook them. They just gave us a shot in the mouth. We got the butterflies out and kept playing and that’s what we did in the second half.”
NORWALK 43, McMAHON 26
NORWALK 6 7 13 17
BRIEN McMAHON 14 6 0 6—26
N—Jalen Elliott 20 pass from Kyle Gordon (rush failed)
BM—Chris Druin 19 run (kick failed)
BM—Kelete Sherald 13 pass from Druin (Druin pass to Andrew Trujillo)
BM—Druin 1 run (rush failed)
N—AJ Hall 15 pass from Gordon (Ben Bonebrake kick)
N—Hall 25 pass from Gordon (Bonebrake kick)
N—Hall 10 pass from Gordon (kick failed)
N—Ishwa Entzminger 1 run (Jakari Walker rush)
N—Safety, Druin sacked in end zone
N—Entzminger 63 run (Bonebrake kick)
BM—Tsai Zoe 24 run (kick failed).