By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
It was supposed to be a banner night for Norwalk High’s football team when it hosted Long Beach Jordan High last Friday night at Excelsior Stadium. It was the home opener for the Lancers, it was senior night, an oddity in itself this early in the season, and former standout Elijhaa Penny, who was named to the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, came back to see the game.
But Norwalk turned the ball over twice inside the 10-yard line and was held out of the end zone until late in the game. When the Lancers did score, head coach Otis Harrison decided to go against the odds and settle for the two-point conversion at home instead of the tie. The plan backfired and the Lancers dropped a 7-6 decision to the Panthers.
“All of our games are at somewhere,” Harrison said. “We’re not at Norwalk High School. So, we’re on the road all the time. Maybe it’s a home field advantage for some, but for me, it doesn’t really mean a lot. We just didn’t get it done.
“I held a meeting with the boys to see if they wanted to go for two,” he continued. “They were ready to go for two. We talked about the play they wanted to run and we just did not execute it at all. In fact, we just looked like we shouldn’t have run it. So, that’s on me.”
After junior safety Billy Moore recovered a fumble almost four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Lancers ran 11 plays, moved 47 yards and took almost five minutes off the clock to get into the end zone. Sophomore quarterback Brionne Penny, the younger brother of Elijhaa, scored from two yards out after a he threw a 16-yard pass to junior running back Daniel Faamatau on fourth and eight. But the two-point conversion was failed and Norwalk was down by a point with 3:16 left. It would not touch the ball again on offense.
“We have been trying to get that fullback out of the backfield pass,” Harrison said. “I thought that that might have been open tonight. And it worked.”
The Lancers were driving on their first possession of the game and were at the 16-yard line following a 26-yard run from senior running back Raylind Butler. But on the next play, Penny was picked off by Kawon Sofala at the seven-yard line.
Jordan wouldn’t capitalize on the miscue but when the Panthers got the ball after a three and out by the hosts early in the second quarter, Israel Sarabia jaunted 29 yards for a touchdown on fourth and four to put Jordan up 7-0. Norwalk was then looking to tie the game late in the first half, especially when junior punter Josh Martinez picked up a first down on a fake punt.
But after driving all the way down to the seven-yard line, William Satulua recovered a fumble with seven seconds remaining. The two turnovers hit Harrison pretty hard, who is blaming himself for the team’s loss.
“You have to capitalize when you get that close to the end zone,” Harrison said. “It’s got to mean something to you. I probably didn’t have them ready to go tonight, and that’s on me.”
Following a three-and out on Norwalk’s initial possession of the second half, Jordan was engineering a nifty 12-play drive, all on runs, that took over seven minutes off the clock. But Sarabia was intercepted by junior safety Joseph Rodriguez at the eight-yard line, who returned the ball to the Jordan 47-yard line. However, the Lancers squandered that opportunity when Penny was stopped a yard short on fourth down. It was the first of two straight possessions that would end on downs before Norwalk’s lone touchdown.
Butler led Norwalk with 63 yards on 14 carries while Moore added 35 yards on nine touches. Penny would complete just the one pass in nine attempts. Defensively, the Lancers struggled at times trying to contain a scrambling Sarabia, who picked up 99 yards on 10 carries. But Jordan would pick up another 96 yards on 29 carries from four other running backs, thus keeping Norwalk in the game.
“The defense played their tails off,” Harrison said. “I owe them a steak and [the] offense probably needs to eat hot dogs. But hey, it’s on me. We weren’t ready to go in all three phases of the game. We will be next week.”
Now, the Lancers will travel to Bell Gardens High tonight, hoping to avenge last season’s 38-35 home loss.
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