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By Loren Kopff
When Norwalk visited Bell in the 2014 season opener, the game was already decided after the first 12 minutes with the Lancers holding a commanding 27-0 lead en route to a 57-0 victory. The teams opened the 2015 season last Friday night at Excelsior Stadium and while the Lancers defeated the Eagles again, it wasn’t as easy as last season.
And while Norwalk came away with a 34-14 win behind three touchdowns from senior running back Chris Walker, first-year head coach Otis Harrison made it perfectly clear that this is definitely a new season and that the past is the past. That was evident in the first quarter when Bell scored both of its touchdowns and still played the hosts to a tie game until sophomore running back Josh Martinez went up the middle of the field and caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Ausencio Navarro with 2:43 remaining in the first half. The fact that Bell played the Lancers close for most of the game didn’t surprise Harrison one bit.
“No, because every year is different,” Harrison said. “This is a different coach that they have this year. They’re a very well-coached team; you could see that from the outset. I love to see that it’s trying to do what they are being coached to do. So I really respect Bell and there was no doubt about it. For us I didn’t even think about last year. This is a brand new year and a brand new team.”
Norwalk (1-0) scored on its first play from scrimmage when senior fullback Elias Robles scampered for a 65-yard run. Three plays later, the Eagles tied the game when quarterback Frank Zumaran lofted the pigskin to Bruce Gutierrez who then launched a 50-yard scoring strike to Jesus Lopez.
“That was just a good play,” Harrison said. “Hat’s off to Bell. I want to be real clear; it was not always what we were doing wrong. But that was a pretty good football team in Bell. No win is easy.”
But on the second play of the ensuing drive (the third of the night thus far for Norwalk), Walker busted loose for a 55-yard touchdown jaunt. Walker scored four times in last season’s win over Bell on runs of 24, 42, 45 and 60 yards. Bell responded with its longest drive of the night and after going 71 yards in nine plays, Zumaran’s four-yard run tied the game with 3:08 left in the opening stanza.
“In the first half I thought we were really nervous,” Harrison said. “With the home crowd, everything means so much to a lot of guys. Once [Navarro] got over the nerves, I was real happy to see that. I think he has found a little bit of a comfort zone with throwing the football. But that first half was just tough. It was just two good teams battling.”
The second half began with Norwalk punting twice and Bell once before sophomore cornerback Jonathan Tovar recovered a fumble at the Norwalk 25-yard line with 3:20 left in the third quarter. Three plays later, Walker iced the game with a 36-yard scoring run. He would add his third score with less than two minutes in the game following a 60-yard interception return from senior tackle Omar Garcia. Walker, who is coming back from an ankle injury, led everyone with 170 yards on 16 carries while Robles picked up 74 more yards on 11 carries. Senior running back Kirk Brown pitched in with 48 yards on seven touches.
“First of all, those guys work very hard and they work for each other and they push each other in practice,” Harrison said. “Elias is such a success story. He’s really worked himself into the running back shape. He wasn’t always there when he first got here. Kirk is a hard-nosed guy, ready to go downhill at any given time. And Chris Walker…he’s such a great guy in character. I’m just rooting for him as a spectator and happy to see that he has rehabbed and able to start and finish a game.”
On the defensive side, Brown led the Lancers with six tackles while junior defensive end Jordan Thomas added five and sophomore safety Andrew Navarro pitched in with four. Next up for the Lancers is a road game against national power St. John Bosco tonight at Veterans Stadium on the Long Beach City College campus. Last season, the Lancers fell to the Braves 48-3. Last Friday night, St. John Bosco blasted La Mirada 76-8.
“Well, it’s a challenge,” Harrison said. “But it’s a challenge we’re up for. We have to play outstanding football and we can’t allow people to score on us in one or two plays. Make them drive in at least 10 plays because a lot of good things can happen inside of 10 plays. You might get a turnover; you might make them punt.”
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