Two games into the season, Michael Donahue and his teammates on the Cohasset football team were at a crossroads.
The Skippers were 0-2, a less than ideal start after a 1-4 record in the Fall II season last spring. In his final season, the senior captain was not going to let Cohasset dwell on the setbacks.
The Skippers made the necessary adjustments and kicked off a nine-game winning streak with a 28-0 shutout of Norwell. With a 14-8 victory over Mashpee in the Division 7 semifinals Nov. 19, Cohasset (9-2) earned a shot at the program’s first championship since 2014. The Skippers take on top-seeded Wahconah (11-0) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Gillette Stadium.
“It was just really a mentality switch among the whole team that kind of got us motivated to become better as a group, and that’s what we did,” said Donahue, a two-way standout at fullback and linebacker. “And it has been awesome ever since.”
The 5-foot-10-inch, 185-pound Donahue grew up in the Cohasset football program after playing for the SciCoh organization at youth level. Reaching Gillette has been a goal for Donahue since he watched the 2014 team win the state title.
Donahue said the team is even more motivated than before after meeting alumni from the senior classes who fell short of the championship goal in past seasons.
The Cohasset defense has been one of the best in the state in the 9-0 run, yielding just 8 points per game against stiff South Shore League competition. Donahue has been a critical cog, with a team-leading 129 tackles, almost 12 per game. At fullback, Donahue also rushed for 368 yards on 6-plus yards per carry with 3 touchdowns.
Cohassset coach Pete Afanasiw labeled Donahue as “the quintessential run-stopping linebacker” and was effusive in his praise of the co-captain’s leadership abilities that garner more respect across the roster than almost any athlete he has coached over 25 years split between Cohasset and Duxbury.
“He flies under the radar, but he means the world to the team,” Afanasiw said.
When the team voted on captains, Donahue appeared in the top three of every ballot, the first time that has happened in Afanasiw’s coaching career.
“He has the respect of everybody around him,” the coach said. “Whether they be a starter, or a freshman, or the coaches, when Michael speaks, they listen.”
Donahue deflected any praise onto his teammates, especially his fellow linebackers and the defensive linemen, but when pressed, the senior acknowledged the success his aggressive, yet composed playing style has yielded.
On a Skippers roster with 10 seniors, a lot of the offensive production comes from junior quarterback Will Baker and sophomore back Liam Appleton. Despite the youth, Donahue has complete trust in his playmakers to make sure his Cohasset career ends on a positive note.
Afanasiw said the days leading up to Wednesday will be focused around “lasts” for the senior class, and the coach is focused on making sure the team leaves the field with no regrets.
After a week full of sentimental moments, Donahue’s run-stopping ability will face a major test against Wahconah’s Jonah Smith (1,864 yards rushing, 23 TDs), who spent the fall carving up defenses in Western Mass.
Afanasiw said the coaching staff is focusing on aligning defensive assignments to his athlete’s strengths, which will allow Donahue to key on Smith or another weapon in the undefeated Warriors’ backfield.
“We can’t over pursue or miss tackles,” Donahue said. “We have to be very efficient in how we execute because we know this kid is very talented, and they have just a very talented offense in general. So we’re going to have to adjust and act accordingly.”
Before each game, Donahue makes sure to give all of his teammates a hug because, if it is not already clear on the field, he wants to make sure everyone knows he has their backs. This tradition will continue before kickoff Wednesday, as the Skippers hope to channel their energy into a state championship trophy.
“We know that we’re going to Gillette, so now it comes down to executing,” Donahue said. “We’re just very excited to get the chance to take the field.”
Ethan McDowell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.