FOXBOROUGH — Joey Donahue sat behind three senior linebackers all season at East Bridgewater, waiting for his opportunity.
On Saturday morning in the Division 3A Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, that moment arrived.
With outside linebacker Patrick Snow sidelined with a shoulder injury, the 5-foot-8-inch, 185-pound junior received the start in the biggest game of his life and he made the most of the opportunity.
Donahue recovered four fumbles, returning two for touchdowns, as the Vikings stopped previously unbeaten St. Mary’s, 34-8, to capture the program’s second Super Bowl win, and first since 1990.
East Bridgewater (11-2) was denied in last year’s Division 5 final by Northbridge, 36-34.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in a game,” said East Bridgewater 12-year coach Shawn Tarpey. “That’s just Joe, he’s a hard-nosed kid, he’s an East Bridgewater kid. He waited for his time to make a play and he was incredible for us today.”
“They didn’t care that they weren’t bigger than other guys,” added the coach, while clutching the state championship plaque.
“They played hard football with incredible toughness and speed and that really was the difference.”
Neither team could take advantage of the other’s miscues until Donahue made the first game-changing play.
Midway through the second quarter, St. Mary’s quarterback Marcus Atkins fumbled the exchange. The ball bounced to the left, Donahue scooped up his second fumble recovery of the morning, and sprinted 70 yards for a 7-0 lead after David Trask’s point-after.
“We had a bunch of different looks planned for [St. Mary’s],” said Tarpey of a Spartan attack that was averaging 38 points per game.
“We stayed in our regular look and the second time we called a different front, we really pinched their offensive line and I think it caught them a little bit off guard and caused the fumble.”
East Bridgewater football coach Shawn Tarpey after the Division 3A state championship win pic.twitter.com/K0vZbbVouc— Boston Globe Schools (@GlobeSchools) December 3, 2016
East Bridgewater asserted its will in the second half.
East Bridgewater sophomore Liam LeVangie (123 yards passing, 2 TDs) did not complete a pass in the first half. But at the start of the third quarter, he marched his team down the field, leaping into the end zone from 2 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
After Donahue recovered his third fumble, LeVangie connected with a wide-open Michael Khoury, his senior tight end, for a 30-yard score and a 21-0 margin.
St. Mary’s (11-1) finally broke through on a 5-yard run from James Brumfield with 7:10 remaining, making it a 21-8 deficit. But East Bridgewater answered quickly, with LeVangie hitting Greg Plunkett on a 49-yard pass play on third and 8.
And when Donahue scooped up his fourth fumble of the morning, and took it 32 yards to the house, breaking two tackles before falling into the end zone, East Bridgewater was in command, 34-8.
“It’s crazy. This is unbelievable,” Donahue said. “This feels like a dream, I’m just at a loss for words right now.”
The Viking defense forced six turnovers and held St. Mary’s electric backfield tandem of Abraham Toe and Calvin Johnson to a combined 34 yards.
“They’re kids, maybe nerves, who knows. Our kids played hard and East Bridgewater is an excellent football team,” St. Mary’s coach Matt Durgin said.
The Vikings, despite turning over the ball four times, triumphed at Gillette the same way they triumphed all season, as a team.
“They have surprised me all the time,” Tarpey said.
“Just when you think, ‘Maybe we don’t have enough,’ they raise their level like I’ve never seen a team do before. It was really impressive just to be a part of it.”
East Bridgewater 34, St. Mary’s 8
at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
St. Mary’s (11-1)
East Bridgewater (11-2)
EB — Joey Donahue 70 fumble return (David Trask kick)
EB — Liam LeVangie 2 run (David Trask kick)
EB — Mike Khoury 30 pass from Liam LeVangie (David Trask kick)
SM — James Brumfield 5 run (James Brumfield run)
EB — Greg Plunkett 49 pass from Liam LeVangie (David Trask kick)
EB — Joey Donahue 32 fumble return (kick failed)
RUSHING — EB, Ben Ross 15-46, Joey Donahue 6-20, Liam LeVangie 4-6, Greg Plunkett 1-(-3); SM, Abraham Toe 13-42, Calvin Johnson 6-(-8), Marcus Atkins 5-(-13)
PASSING — EB, Liam LeVangie 6-12-3-123; SM, Marcus Atkins 9-15-2-128
RECEIVING — EB, Greg Plunkett 3-64, Mike Khoury 2-37; SM, Calvin Johnson 5-84