On a touchdown play for Norwood Fontbonne Academy in last Wednesday’s game, scorer Anthony Rossi (right) receives the handoff from quarterback J.P. Newstead as Aaron Abrams (left background) looks to make a block. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

On a touchdown play for Norwood Fontbonne Academy in last Wednesday’s game, scorer Anthony Rossi (right) receives the handoff from quarterback J.P. Newstead as Aaron Abrams (left background) looks to make a block. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Despite the loss of eight starters from last season, this year’s football team at Norwood Fontbonne Academy appears to have picked up where the 2014 squad left off. Last fall the Bears were the undefeated Catholic Academies League champions, and after starting out 3-0 in the CAL in 2015, last Wednesday Norwood won its first non-league game in dominating fashion, defeating host Bryn Athyn Academy, 34-6.

Asked how the program has maintained momentum with so many new starters, coach Jim Rockenbach opined, “Because last year was a special season, I think the kids worked out a bit over the summer and came in with a greater drive. What the team accomplished last year gave them confidence that they could continue to win.”

One of the vacancies left by the last graduating class was at quarterback, and this year eighth-grader J.P. Newstead, formerly a receiver, stepped into the role of QB while continuing to play cornerback on defense. The offensive line in front of him consists of seventh-grader Kevin Comerford at center, eighth-graders Brandon McBride and Nick Mustin at guard, and their classmates Sam Pié and Casey Stephenson at tackle.

Adding more new talent to the backfield is last year’s JV star tailback Milt James. Still only in seventh grade, he scored his eighth touchdown of the season at ANC, even though in a few of Norwood’s easier games, he retired to the sideline as soon as the Bears had the game in hand.

Most of the time, James is featured in a power-I set along with two tight ends, eighth-grader Aaron Abrams and seventh-grader Mike Marable.

While the NFA franchise is talented, not all of its wins have come easily. In the CAL, a late TD finally gave the Bears some breathing room in a 13-6 win over Ancillae Assumpta, and Norwood trailed at the half against Waldron Mercy before rallying to win, 14-12.

The locals had started the season with a convincing victory over Gwynedd Mercy, and last week’s non-league win against Bryn Athyn (a component of the Academy of the New Church) followed a similar pattern.

After returning Bryn Athyn’s opening kick-off out near midfield, Norwood had James romp to the endzone on the first play from scrimmage. The Bears did not pick up the extra point, but after limiting their hosts to a three-and-out, their offense took over and rolled back down to the red zone with eighth-grader C.J. Lynch, among others, running the ball. Newstead took it over the goal line on a quarterback sneak, and on the extra point attempt, seventh-grader Jon Irvine ran it in standing up to make it a 13-0 game.

Bryn Athyn managed to pick up a first down as the game went into the second quarter, but later had to hand the ball over on downs. Soon, eighth-grader John Burke toted the ball into the endzone for another Norwood TD, with seventh-grader Henry Loome tacking on the additional point this time around. The half ended with NFA up 20-0.

The home team made no headway on its first possession of the third quarter, and Norwood, subbing freely now, also struggled on its first series of the second half. The Bears got hit with a penalty and then fumbled the ball away on their own 45-yard line.

Bryn Athyn was able to earn a first down and was running through a new set of downs as the fourth quarter got underway. Facing a fourth-and-eight at the Norwood 33, Bryn Athyn sprung its best player, Nandin Rhodes, for a touchdown romp around the left end. A pass for the extra point fell incomplete, so the count was now 20-6.

The Bears deftly handled an onside kick by their rivals and soon regained a three-touchdown lead on a gallop down the left sideline by Anthony Rossi, a seventh-grader. ANC turned the ball over and with 5:40 still remaining, the visitors stuck the final score on the board courtesy of a long TD run by Irvine. The extra points on the last two Norwood touchdowns came on runs by seventh-grader Titus Henkels and eighth-grader Corbin Drigalla.

This Saturday, the Bears will take on the only league team they haven’t faced so far, Rosemont School of the Holy Child.