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Gahr stuns previously unbeaten Norwalk as defense finds way to stall high-scoring offense

Gahr High sophomore cornerback Markell Slaughter comes down with a first quarter interception in the end zone against Norwalk High last Friday. The Gladiators upset the Lancers 26-6 and have a chance to end the regular season tied for first place in the Mid-Cities League. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

October 26, 2022~Greg Marshall has been Gahr High’s head coach for 20 seasons, experiencing probably two to three times more low moments than the high ones. But following last Friday night’s contest at Norwalk High, in what will go down as one of the best wins in Gahr football history, Marshall said the victory ‘has to be at the top as far as a group of kids who haven’t had anything but will all year’.

Clinging to very slim CIF-Southern Section playoff chances, the Gladiators marched into Norwalk’s stadium and punched the Lancers in the gut, holding the previously unbeaten team to 130 yards on 39 carries and pulling off a 26-6 upset. Gahr improved to 2-7 with both wins coming in consecutive weeks against Mid-Cities League opponents.

“That’s a very good football team and we played really well,” said Marshall. “We made some plays tonight.”

Maybe secretly, the Gladiators thought they had a chance of knocking one of the top double wing teams in Southern California. But ask anyone else, that thought never crossed their minds, even as Norwalk was without the services of 1,080-yard senior running back David Herrera, who dislocated his left elbow the previous week in a 14-12 win against Bellflower High and is lost for the remainder of the season.

“No, no one expected this tonight,” said Norwalk head coach Ruben Guerrero. “They came out as a team on a mission. They had us in their sights and we weren’t expecting this at all.”

In fact, the term ‘trap game’, which isn’t used much in high school football, wasn’t on Guerrero’s radar, or that of his coaching staff and team.

“I thought about that, but that’s why we’re in this business,” he said. “We’re in this business to be successful and, to have a lot to lose, there’s also a lot to gain, too. Having a lot to lose, I guess, just means you’re doing something right, and we had a bad night tonight.”

The Gladiators set the tone by taking the opening kickoff and, a page out of Norwalk’s playbook, by chewing 5:07 off the clock as senior quarterback Tyvon McGirt completed his first three passes, including a six-yard touchdown strike to junior Noah Taylor, and junior running back Kalen Montgomery rushed three times for 31 yards as part of a nine-play drive. But as the offense was just getting started, so was the defense as sophomore cornerback Markell Slaughter intercepted senior quarterback Caden Barnhill in the end zone on third and 10 from the Gahr 40-yard line.

Barnhill would redeem himself on the first play of the second quarter, sneaking in from a yard out. But after that, it was all about Gahr’s defense, especially senior lineman David Mataele, who recovered a second quarter fumble and sacked Barnhill on fourth and 14 at the end of the half. The Gladiators would also force another fumble in the stanza after punting as Norwalk (8-1, 2-1) was limited to an unprecedented 69 yards in the first half. Montgomery would also score from a yard out to put the visitors up 12-6 with 92 seconds left in the half.

“We told them we had to score first and early versus these guys,” said Marshall. “The thing is, we took our time; we took some time off the clock. In the past, when we would do that, we would sputter out. Tonight, I think we closed it out in the red zone pretty good.”

“Things happened to us that we weren’t accustomed to,” said Guerrero. “We’re accustomed to getting a little push and being able to find a spot and they made us work very hard to find that one spot where we could run the ball. We found it couple of times, but we weren’t able to get back to it. I’ve got to say Coach Marshall over there did his homework.”

Norwalk was hoping to tie or take the lead early in the third quarter but on its first drive, it could only get 25 yards on seven plays and were stopped on fourth and two from midfield. Gahr took advantage and even when two penalties and losses of eight yards backed the team into Norwalk territory, Montgomery was able to burst for a 73-yard touchdown run with 6:34 to ice the game.

Both coaches agreed that the key for Gahr’s improbable upset was that it had faced Bellflower on Sept. 30, another team that runs the double wing, and was able to score 20 points. Then Marshall studied the game film from Norwalk’s game against the Buccaneers in which the Lancers trailed 6-0 at the half before scoring their two touchdowns in the third quarter.

“We broke down versus Bellflower, because we had them in the first half,” said Marshall. “The good thing is we’ve seen [this offense] and it’s just as good as Bellflower’s. When you watch the Bellflower-Norwalk game, they know how to play it. It was definitely a big help, and our kids played hard. We moved some kids around and it was a great game for us.”

“Playing Bellflower, I think, showed a couple of things that where people might be able to have some success against us,” said Guerrero.

Gahr had the ball for just under four minutes in the third quarter, but when Norwalk had the ball, it had trouble getting those runs of more than eight or nine yards. The Lancers rushed 16 times in the stanza but only two times did a runner pick up at least 10 yards. And even when senior running back Michael Mueller got loose for a 34-yard gain, it was called back because of a personal foul penalty.

 

Gahr High sophomore cornerback Markell Slaughter doesn’t let Norwalk High senior running back Michael Mueller get much yardage on this carry in last Friday night’s Mid-Cities League contest. Mueller was held to 62 yards on 15 carries and only once did he have a gain of more than eight yards. Gahr upset previously unbeaten Norwalk 26-6 that left both teams 2-1 in league action with one game left in the regular season. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

Gahr’s last score of the night came at the 7:55 mark of the fourth quarter when McGirt threw a short four-yard pass, initially tipped by Norwalk seniors Franklin Gonzalez and Mueller, to junior wide receiver Evan Spurlin-Renfroe on fourth and goal. McGirt was nine of 11 for 78 yards with Spurlin-Renfroe catching three of them for 41 yards. But the night belonged to Montgomery, who figures to be a major force next season. He racked up 148 yards on 19 carries.

“Oh my god, that kid,” said Marshall of Montgomery. “Their kid was hurt and [Montgomery] reminds me of [Herrera]. He doesn’t look like much, but when you watch him play, he was tearing people up. Obviously, he was hurt tonight, but they are the same type of back.”

Mueller led Norwalk’s rushing attack with a season-low 62 yards on 15 carries while senior running back Adrian Martinez had 30 yards on six carries and junior running back Caleb Mitchell chipped in with 20 yards on seven touches.

“We weren’t crisp on our blocking,” said Guerrero. “We weren’t able to get to that second level. Again, my hat’s off to that second level of Gahr’s defense. They really bottlenecked us and when we can’t block the second level, are game’s aren’t going to be what we’re accustomed to getting.”

Norwalk will end the season tonight at Firebaugh High, a team that is 2-6 overall, winless in three league games, has had trouble scoring all season (73 points), has been shutout four times and has given up at least 40 points in five of the six losses. With Bellflower on its bye tonight, a win by Norwalk will assure the Lancers a share of the league title.

“We kind of want to go back to the drawing board next week on Monday,” said Guerrero. “We need to really study where we went wrong and make better really quickly. We want to finish off the year strong. There are two ways we can go from here. We can go up, or we can go down. We can learn from this, or we cannot learn from this.”

Gahr hosts Lynwood High, a familiar opponent from the old San Gabriel Valley League, tonight in the regular season finale. The Knights are 6-3 overall, 1-2 in the circuit and a win over Gahr would force a tie for third place and seemingly knock the Gladiators out of the playoffs. However, a win over Lynwood, a team it has defeated six straight times, and a Norwalk win would find a three-way tie for first place. The Knights fell to Bellflower 48-0 last Friday following a 51-0 setback to Norwalk. Before that, Lynwood smashed Firebaugh 40-0.

“That was the plan,” said Marshall of potentially winning the league. “I told them don’t panic. We know we only have to beat one of them. It would be great if we beat both [Norwalk and Lynwood]. But you just have to win one big game because of the league. Obviously, we have to go beat Lynwood now. But that was part of the plan.

“Losing to Cerritos was a big setback,” he continued. “I think if we would have won that game, I think we would be feeling better about ourselves. Firebaugh came around at the right time and then tonight, these guys…we caught them at the right time. All things lined up for us tonight.”

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