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2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Norwalk faces challenges with reduction of Suburban League, new quarterback

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

NORWALK LANCERS

7-4 overall last season, 4-2 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to St. Anthony High 31-19 in Division 9 first round playoffs

39-19 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Otis Harrison (fourth season, 19-14)

Lost 24 seniors out of 44 players from 2017 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2006

2018 schedule

Aug. 17           @ Pacifica (10-2 overall last season)

Aug. 24           @Valley Christian (9-3)

Aug. 31           Bell Gardens (4-6)

Sept. 7            Long Beach Jordan (0-9)

Sept. 14          @ California (4-6)

Sept. 21          @ Norte Vista (3-8)

Sept. 28          @ John Glenn (5-5)

Oct. 5              BYE

Oct. 12            @ Mayfair (11-2)

Oct. 19            @ Bellflower (4-6)

Oct. 26            La Mirada (5-6)

For the second straight season, Norwalk High head coach Otis Harrison finished a season 7-4. But for the fourth straight season, the Lancers failed to win a postseason game. In 2017, the Lancers bolted out to a 5-1 start, outscoring opponents 171-101. But then Norwalk lost back to back games against the two heavyweights in the Suburban League-La Mirada High and Mayfair High. It will be a tougher challenge for Norwalk to duplicate, or even exceed last season’s performance. A tougher schedule, plus the losses of Artesia High, Cerritos High and John Glenn High from the league will be on the minds of Harrison and his players.

“Anytime you win more games than you lose, that’s a positive,” Harrison said. “It’s not easy to win a game. So, when you can go 7-3 [in the regular season], at least you’re consistent. I did think that we were at least one or two games better than what we turned out last year. Obviously, me being the head coach, I’ll take responsibility for that. We hope to be better this year.”

Harrison felt the lack of toughness and turnovers inside the red zone were two big issues last season. He added that his team left three more wins out on the field and that the team underperformed in the playoffs against St. Anthony High. Harrison says he just realizes this is a game the players have to love to play.

OFFENSE

The Lancers, who have historically piled up the points because of a vaunted running attack, may be slightly different this season as there is changing of the guard at the position that is always the at the center of attraction. Sophomore Christian Brito replaces Brionne Penny (transferred to Narbonne High) at quarterback and has already received high praise from Harrison, who likes his I.Q., dedication, discipline and says his mistakes don’t happen twice. Last season, Penny, the younger brother of Elijhaa and Rashaad, both of whom are with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks respectively, passed for 557 yards in a run-oriented offense. Junior Daniel Onopa and sophomore Christopher DeLeon will be the backups to Brito.

“This kid knows when he makes his own mistakes,” Harrison said. “Obviously, he’s young. He can’t replace Brionne, so you don’t even worry about that. You just try to enhance what you have and go from there. [Brito] is going to give us everything he has.”

As was the case last season when it wasn’t uncommon to see a plethora of guys carry the ball for significant yardage, the Lancers had nine seniors carry the ball and three underclassmen, one of them is sophomore running back Warren Stevens-Tayou. The running-by-committee system will also include seniors Joel Alacorn and Matt Lucas, juniors Isaac Alacorn, Isaac Martinez, Sergio Martinez, Izhar Torres and Onopa.

“When you start thinking about guys who have been working out since January, it would be a hope to play everybody that’s still out there,” Harrison said. “If you come to practice every day and you’re not getting any better, that’s coaching. So, a lot of guys have developed, who have worked very, very, hard and while none of them quite looks like Warren at 6-1, 225, everyone runs hard. And, we really want to reward them. That’s high school football.”

Senior John Armas, who caught four passes for 50 yards last season, and junior David Contreras figure to be tight ends while Joel Alacorn will be at wide receiver. Up on the line will be senior left tackle Ivan Romero, senior left guard Luke Zullo, junior center Nathan Ramos, junior right guard Franklin Flores and senior Daniel Aduato right tackle.

“I’m going to do whatever is working when the game starts,” Harrison said. “If they have 11 in the box, obviously we’re going to do the right thing by trying to get it past them. We’re just going to try to keep everything systematically reasonable for the team.”

DEFENSE

The Lancers were kind of a mixed bag on defense in 2017, allowing at least 30 points four times, less than 20 points six times and single digits twice. Patrolling the line will be Armas, who had 39 tackles and eight sacks, and should have been a member of the All-CIF Team, according to Harrison. Another member of the line will be Stevens-Tayou. At cornerback will be Onopa, while Joel Alacorn plays one of the safety positions. Isaac Alacorn is one of the linebackers with other top defensive players being senior Angel Gutierrez and sophomore David Portillo, who played a few games at the varsity level.

“I think we’re very aggressive this year, and I just think that’s just on the player,” Harrison said. “In football, the more aggressive you are on defense, the less you have to call.”

SCHEDULE

With three schools leaving the Suburban League to form the new 605 League, Norwalk has added three more non-league games to its slate. At the same time, it became tougher for the Lancers to grab a playoff berth as finishing in second place may not even be good enough for an 11thgame. Half of the opponents went to the playoffs last season while the Lancers blasted Long Beach Jordan High 42-15 in the second game last season, followed by a 34-20 win at Bell Gardens High.

Although now in different leagues, the Lancers will continue their longstanding city rivalry with John Glenn. Norwalk has won 15 straight games against the Eagles. However, last season’s 20-14 win was the closest decision since a 7-0 shutout back on Nov. 11, 2004. Norwalk and Valley Christian High have not faced each other since V.C, swept a home and home series in 2002 and 2003.

“It’s a tough schedule,” Harrison said. “It’s a great chance to see what we have. We’re just going to take it one game at a time. Pacifica is a great way to start and we’re going to see how we stack up. I wanted to go to Norte Vista and I think sometimes travelling is really fun. It’s just a different experience. In the hindsight of it, as a lot of these guys will be seniors next year, a lot of these games will be at home.

“I think we have a real colorful schedule,” he continued. “Valley Christian is going to be tough; organized and structured. Competing against that type of thing, we’ll have the respect of people.”

Since 1998, Norwalk has won 16 of 60 games against Bellflower High, La Mirada and Mayfair combined. In comparison, the Lancers went 43-17 against the three schools that departed from the Suburban League. However, Norwalk has yet to beat La Mirada at Excelsior Stadium since at least before 1998 and the last two losses to Mayfair have come by a combined 10 points.

“It’s a little different, but keeping it just as games, it would be nice to finish above third,” Harrison said of the new look. “It’s going to be challenging, but it would be nice to finish above third. Seventy percent of our games we won last year; we would like to win 80 percent [this year].”

HOMECOMING

Norwalk’s homecoming game will take place less than a month after school begins, and four games into the season against Jordan. It will be the first time since before 1998 that the Lancers have hosted a non-league opponent for its homecoming game. The Lancers are 12-8 in their past 20 homecoming games and have won their last five. Last season, Norwalk posted a 63-14 win against Artesia on homecoming night, which was also its home season finale. In fact, Norwalk had gone 6-3 against Artesia, 5-1 against Cerritos and 1-2 against Glenn in homecoming games, the three schools that are no longer in the Suburban League.

DIVISION 9

Norwalk remains in Division 9 where it will be one of 29 schools vying for one of the 16 playoff spots. Last season, there were six league champions in the division, three second and third place teams and four at-large representatives, Norte Vista High is the only opponent in the same division.

“I think it’s exciting to see the pool,” Harrison said. “You start with 29 teams and you end up with 16 and after the first playoff game, you end up with eight. [The division] is competitive because it’s based off of wins and losses on years before. It’s not based on the size of your school.”

 

 

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