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WEEK FOUR FOOTBALL: NORWALK CONTINUES TO HAVE BREAKOUT SEASON, STUNS CALIFORNIA WITH SOLID RUNNING GAME

NORWALK HIGH junior Milton Roman Jr. (#22) paves a way for senior running back Sergio Martinez by blocking California High’s Alberto Cedano in last Thursday’s non-league football game at Excelsior Stadium. Martinez rushed 23 times for 126 yards as the Lancers knocked off the Condors 21-15. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

BY LOREN KOPFF@LORENKOPFF ON TWITTER

A fast start against a team that was previously undefeated and ranked sixth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 11 poll was what upstart Norwalk High needed last Friday night at Excelsior Stadium. The Lancers took over seven minutes off the clock to begin the game, then the defense recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, leading to another score.

Just like that, Norwalk had a 14-0 lead before California High even ran an offensive play and held on for a hard-earned 21-15 victory. The win avenged a 45-0 loss to the Condors last season and for some, this may have been a statement game. But if you ask Norwalk first-year head coach Dean Gray, he’ll tell you otherwise.

“It’s one game at a time guys,” Gray said. “It’s one game at a time. The kids had a great week at practice and they’re believing in the coaching staff. They’ve been working hard ever since February in the weight room, and it’s paying off. But all the credit goes to the kids. They’ve turned this around and they’re believing. We’re always the smallest team if you look and we’re one of the smallest teams you’re going to see. But our hearts are huge, and you saw it tonight.”

Last season, the Lancers went winless, scored 56 points and allowed 417. But Gray credits the kids and his coaching staff on all three levels for the turnaround this season as the Lancers improved to 3-2.

Norwalk ran 13 times for 75 yards on the game’s opening drive which ended with a four-yard run from senior running back Sergio Martinez. On the ensuing kickoff, senior Diego Vasquez recovered a fumble at the California 18-yard line and four plays later, the Lancers went up 14-0 after senior quarterback Christopher De Leon went in from a yard out.

Norwalk held the ball for 9:12 in the first quarter and continued to own the clock in the second quarter by keeping California’s defense on the field for 8:10. Meanwhile, the Lancers scored their final touchdown with 47.4 seconds remaining in the first half on a De Leon one-yard run. The play capped off a 10-play, 58-yard drive and was set up when senior defensive lineman Nathan Ramos recovered a fumble. The Condors would score 33 seconds later and at the half, the Lancers had 163 yards, all on the ground, while California ran 16 plays and had 35 rushing yards.

“I give a lot of credit to both teams,” Gray said. “Cal High was battling back, never giving up and believing in their coaches. Our kids were not stopping.”

The turning point in the game may have come on the first possession of the second half. California started at its own 30-yard line and on the first play, senior linebacker Armando Gonzalez nearly picked off Jonathan Morales. Later in the drive, a 54-yard pass play to Reece Thomas which took the ball down to the Norwalk 12-yard line was negated by a personal foul infraction. Eventually the Condors were stalled at the 16-yard line with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter.

“We knew they were explosive, and they did a great job of throwing the ball,” Gray said. “We’ve seen it in the first four games. We just needed some breaks and we got some breaks. They got some big plays, but they got a penalty and brought [the ball] back and that had a lot to do with [the drive] stalling.”

Norwalk ran out the remainder of the stanza (eight plays), then punted after five more plays to begin the fourth quarter. The game’s final touchdown came with 2:08 left in the game, a nine-yard score from Morales to Gonzalez and despite recovering an onside kick, Ramos sealed the game by recovering his second fumble, this one near midfield. 

“[California] did a great job in the second half and caught us a couple of times,” Gray said. “They’re a good team, they’re 4-0, they’re ranked. We did a really good job that last drive putting the game away.”

Martinez rushed 23 times for a game-high 126 yards while junior running back Milton Roman Jr. added 98 yards on 19 carries. The Lancers gained 239 yards on 52 carries and held the ball for nearly 30 and a half minutes. In addition, De Leon did not attempt a pass in the fast-paced contest.

“Nathan Ramos on one side and Franklin Flores on the other side…these are two returnees who have been rock solid for us,” Gray said of his offensive line. “And our two guards, Mr. (Juan) Picado and David (Contreras) on the other side have been fantastic.”

The game with the Condors was the first of six straight at Excelsior Stadium, the first five as home contests. However, as if Norwalk’s schedule wasn’t tough enough, now the Lancers meet Norte Vista High tonight, a team that is 3-1, ranked third in Division 10 and has allowed 36 points. In contrast, Norwalk hasn’t scored more than 26 points in any game. 

Norte Vista also loves to run the ball as Eddie Allain has gained 461 yards on 104 carries and found the endzone eight times. As a team, the Braves have gained 1,120 yards on the ground while Daniel Gonzales has attempted 14 passes and thrown for 92 yards. Defensively, nine players have combined for 17 quarterback sacks.

“We know we have one of the toughest schedules around right now,” Gray said. “We’ve got Norte Vista, who is a powerhouse out in Riverside, coming in. Of course, Mayfair and La Mirada and Bellflower…our league is tough, and Glenn. It’s not getting easier. Every team is really, really good. We’re looking at Norte Vista right now. We’re going to enjoy this win tonight.”

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