The 2009 season has been about recovery and redemption for the Fairfield Warde football team. After a lackluster showing against Stamford, the Mustangs redeemed themselves with 14-13 win over Danbury on Friday, guaranteeing the seniors on the team a .500 or better season record.

"It feels great," said senior fullback/linebacker Tommy McNamara. "Warde hasn't had a .500 season in a while and it feels good."

McNamara had a lot to feel good about, running for 115 tough yards and scoring both Warde touchdowns.

Warde's scoring wasn't a given; the Mustangs' first two possessions netted a total of 11 yards and the third ended with a Danbury interception.

Danbury was having slightly better luck but still had to punt on their first three possessions as Garrett Sewchuk and Dylan Thomas kept Hatter quarterback Ian Ratchford scrambling for his life.

Mike Jacobs' runback of a Danbury punt started the Mustangs' fourth possession on the Hatter 39. McNamara powered through the Danbury defenses, breaking tackles for a 15-yard gain, then disaster struck. The reliable fullback lost a fumble.

"I wanted to get first downs and that's basically it," said McNamara. "It felt bad, like I did bad for the team."

Things got worse quickly. Danbury scatback Ta'Quan Chatman set up a Hatter touchdown with a 55-yard scamper, and 4:30 into the second quarter Danbury led, 7-0.

"That fumble was a drive killer for us and seven points for them and it could be tough to come back from that," said Warde head coach Duncan DellaVolpe. "but the kids never give up."

Warde's comeback took time. After a Warde punt, the Hatters looked potent, with Deyon Rosado slipping past Chidi Madu, the Mustangs' towering defensive end for a first down.

"You've just got to let it go," said Madu. "You can't be hanging on one play. I tried to let it get past me and just remember my assignment."

The tall defender remembered his assignment well, sacking Ratchford on the next play.

"I just saw the ball carrier and remembered my tackling techniques," said Madu. "I felt redeemed `cause I helped the team. Making up for my mistakes will lift up the team morale."

Team morale took another lift when Thomas and nose guard Marcio Ventura stopped Ratchford for no gain on third and 15. The ensuing punt put the Mustangs on the Danbury 40 with 1:23 left in the half.

On first down, McNamara drove off guard, shedding tacklers for 17 yards, then followed Thomas and Neil Ehlers for another six. A Danbury penalty put the ball on the Hatter 12.

"I just wanted to score," said McNamara. "I was just looking for the end zone. I wanted to be tied at halftime, go in feeling good."

Ehlers and Thomas gave McNamara a clear look at the end zone and the rugged fullback slammed across the goal line, redeeming his earlier mistake.

Luke Allen's reliable leg scored the extra point and the teams went to the locker room tied, 7-7.

Warde kicked off the second half. Madu, Thomas, Alex Delaney, and Terrrell Walden continued to harass Ratchford, and after an exchange of punts and a recovered fumble, the Mustangs took over on the Danbury 45 and found an unstoppable combination.

"That's Dylan Thomas and Neil Ehlers," said DellaVolpe, "our only two seniors on the line. We were going to ride them the entire night. Plus you've got Tom McNamara running behind them. It's a big threat for us."

Again and again, McNamara ran counters left, set up by Delaney's dashes to the right. Jacob added a sweep that brought the ball to the one-inch line.

"We were really pumped and psyched that we were that close and that we could push one more inch and we're in," said Ehlers. "We were pretty excited and raring to go right then."

Ehlers and Thomas made the push and McNamara dove over his burly classmates into the endzone for a 13-7 advantage.

After junior holder Will Halliday surehanded a low snap, Allen's kick gave the Mustangs a 14-7 lead.

Then came the defense's turn to go into high gear. Danbury's next two possessions netted 14 yards.

"We needed to step up in there and break the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback," said Ventura. "He was scrambling a lot. On our minds was just get through and make that sack or put the pressure on the quarterback to make him throw a wild ball."

The one time Ratchford felt no pressure, he passed to Chatman, who slipped tackles for a 69-yard touchdown dash, closing the Hatters to 14-13.

Hatter coach Dan Donovan sized up the situation. Overtime would mean his team would have to outmatch the Mustangs, and the second half (aside from the one break) made that a bad bet. He chose to go for two and sent Ratchford rolling right.

Pressed from behind by an onrushing Madu, Ratchford threw just beyond the reach of the receiver, and Warde racked up its fifth win of the year.

"I don't care what the score is," said DellaVolpe. "I'm happy we got back on the winning track. I'm very happy that we got to .500. I'm happy that we pulled out another close game and that we didn't quit."

With a Thanksgiving game against crosstown rival Fairfield Ludlowe in the offing, the Mustangs will not be resting on their laurels.

"The next two weeks is just practice," said Ehlers. "Last year we came up short and that's an extra incentive for us to just go out there and beat them this year."