MILTON – A heavy heart couldn’t keep grieving Milton football coach Steve Dembowski from being on the sideline.
Coaching less than a week after his 83-year-old father, Henry, passed away from cancer on Sunday, Dembowski found some sanctuary in guiding his 16th-ranked Wildcats to a 28-14 victory over No. 17 Walpole in a Bay State Conference battle of unbeatens at Brooks Field on Friday night.
“My dad would have been here tonight, he loved big games,” Dembowski said. “He would’ve been right out here with his fedora on, fur coat, and been in his element.”
Milton (4-0, 1-0) now holds the upper hand over Walpole (3-1, 0-1) in the Bay State Conference Herget Division race on the strength of two Owen McHugh touchdown passes to Luke Sammon, as well as Jack Finnegan’s dazzling 90-yard punt return for a touchdown.
McHugh first connected with Sammon from 40 yards out on a double-reverse with 5:09 to go in the second quarter, bringing an end to what had been an offensive stalemate between both sides on the first play of a drive after Finnegan picked off Timberwolves quarterback Corey Kilroy at midfield.
Milton led, 7-0, at halftime, doubling its lead on Finnegan’s punt return for a score with 6:51 remaining in the third.
“The return was to the right, but I saw a cutback to the left so I just took it,” Finnegan said. “There were a couple of guys who had the angle, so I tried to stop and start, got them off balance and just kept running.”
Walpole’s slumbering offense came alive after Finnegan’s score, however, as Kilroy got in sync with Jamal Abdal-Khalaq for a 40-yard gain on a third and 8 before connecting from 22 yards out and a touchdown two plays later.
McHugh threw his second touchdown pass to Sammon with 12 seconds remaining in the third, this time from 21 yards away, but Walpole stayed hot with a quick six-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in Kilroy’s 35-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-7-inch receiver Sean O’Brien with 9:58 left in the fourth.
With a shootout percolating, the Wildcats took the proverbial air out of the ball on their next series, slow-playing a 10-play, 80-yard drive to perfection. Milton, which chewed up 6 minutes, 17 seconds on the series, never faced a third down. The drive culminated with McHugh scoring on a 2-yard keeper with 3:41 left.
Liam McLoughlin iced it for the Wildcats with an interception with 2:18 to go on Walpole’s fourth-and-2 attempt near midfield.
“Our defense did a good job in the first half, kind of took a step back in the second half I thought,” said Walpole coach Chris Sullivan.
McHugh finished 19 of 33 passing for 249 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Kilroy was 14 of 30 for 216 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks.
With both teams aligned in Division 3, and Walpole ranked No. 3 and Milton No. 4 in Friday’s initial power rankings, there’s a chance the conference rivals could meet again come the postseason.
“I talked to Steve after the game and said, ‘Hopefully I get to see you again,’” Sullivan said.