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WEEK SEVEN FOOTBALL Norwalk overcomes obstacles to put away Artesia in second half

By Loren Kopff

 

Norwalk’s football team found itself trailing host Artesia at halftime last Friday night without its leading running back and with a slew of penalties that were getting in the heads of the players. But the defending Suburban League champions shrugged all of that off and rode the legs of senior wingback Ryan McDowell in the second half.

Held to 17 yards on four carries in the first half, McDowell erupted for 153 yards in the final 24 minutes and scored three touchdowns as the Lancers rallied for a 34-20 victory that kept the team tied for first place with La Mirada. But McDowell wasn’t the only one stepping up after junior running back Chris Walker left the game with an ankle injury early in the second quarter.

Sophomore running back Carlos Jaurequi rushed for 136 yards on 17 carries and junior quarterback Ausencio Navarro completed seven of 11 yards for 117 yards as Norwalk knocked off Artesia for the sixth straight time and seventh in the past eight seasons.

“It was business as usual and next man up,” said Norwalk head coach Jesse Ceniceros. “Someone was just asking me today, ‘coach, have you ever had so many skilled guys where you can just put somebody in’? Honestly, this is the first year that we’ve had that luxury. These guys all get practice time.”

But it was Artesia which was in the spotlight early in the game. The Pioneers (3-5 overall, 1-3 in league) took the opening kickoff and following a 25-yard kickoff return from senior Vincent Brown, marched to the 11-yard line on 16 plays, aided by the nifty passing of senior quarterback Jimmy Rodriguez. The 9:23 drive ended when senior Ezekial Diaz booted a 27-yard field goal.

Usually it’s Norwalk that puts together long drives that can last over six, seven or even eight minutes. But the Pioneers held the ball for over 13 minutes in the first half alone.

“They kept them off the field and we converted some big third downs, because we didn’t look great from play to play,” said Artesia head coach Joe Veach. “We actually probably looked bad two out of every three plays but we were somehow able to keep the drive moving and making plays to keep us going. It was a good start for us to get some points and get the lead.”

Then on the first play of the second quarter, junior defensive back Taylor Davis sacked Navarro, who fumbled at the Artesia 30-yard line. Senior defensive back Alejandro Guerrero would recover the fumble and on the very next play, Rodriguez found senior wide receiver Jaydon Logan for a 70-yard score.

Norwalk (5-2 overall, 3-0 in league) got on the board when Walker busted loose for a 71-yard jaunt with 9:51 left in the first half. But when the Lancers had to punt two plays after Walker was injured, Brown put the Pioneers up 17-7 with a 35-yard touchdown run at the 7:18 mark.

The Lancers answered back with Jaurequi’s 10-yard run that ended a drive of over four and a half minutes. However, Diaz connected on a 31-yard field goal with 8.1 seconds left in the half after senior defensive back Cristian Rodriguez recovered a fumble, one of three Norwalk turnovers in the first half.

“We had to keep scoring,” Veach told his team at halftime. “[Norwalk’s] offense…it happens every year when we play them. We tell the kids the same thing. What they do well, we do not. They’re physical in running the ball between the tackles and that is what we do not do well on a week to week basis for years.”

“I just think what happened was we got out of our game mentally,” Ceniceros said. “It reminded me of that 2009 season where we were in the semifinals and we had 18 penalties. It seemed like in that first half where any little positive thing that we got, we got a penalty going back 15 yards. But we told just be patient and let’s make sure we watch what we’re doing.”

The Lancers came out strong in the second half, holding the ball for the first 5:19 of the second half and even though the drive ended on downs, senior cornerback Kevin Cabot picked off Jimmy Rodriguez near midfield on Artesia’s second play of the half. Three plays later, McDowell scored from five yards out to give Norwalk its first lead at 21-20. He would add a 75 yard run a little over three minutes later and Norwalk was in control with a 28-20 lead despite being flagged four times for 60 yards in the stanza. In all Norwalk was penalized 12 times for 160 yards with five personal foul infractions and a pair of illegal chop block calls.

“It was one of those days where not only were we competing against Artesia, but we were competing against these referees who were throwing a lot of flags,” Ceniceros said. “And I don’t think they fully understand the rules. I’m a little upset at that. Our kids work hard for what we do and they really are used to adapting and overcoming and today was a clear example of that.”

McDowell closed out the game’s scoring with a 32-yard run with 5:34 remaining and the Lancers held the ball for the final 3:13 of the game. In fact, the visitors had the ball for 15:35 of the second half and picked up 281 yards on the ground. For the game, the Lancers, who will host Bellflower tonight, had close to 470 rushing yards with Walker gaining 135 yards on six carries before his injury.

“I thought defensively we had a good plan and I think our kids played well,” Veach said. “I think we held them as much as we could. We just didn’t make the plays on offense. Offensively, getting shutout in the second half is unacceptable and that’s what hurt us.”

Jimmy Rodriguez completed 10 of 20 passes for 202 yards but the Pioneers were held in check on the ground, picking up 70 yards on 26 carries with Brown leading the way with 47 yards on seven touches. Artesia will have tonight off before visiting Bellflower on Oct. 31.

“I said [after the game] I was proud of how they played because every loss that we’ve had this season,” Veach said. “I felt that at some point in the second half, I thought we had some [quitters]. But tonight we didn’t have that in us. So, they fought through it.”

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