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CIF FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Norwalk’s defense sets the tone early in first round victory

By Loren Kopff

BURBANK-Something had to give when Norwalk’s football team travelled to Burbank in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Southeast Division first round game last Friday night. Norwalk entered the game averaging 44.8 points per game while Burbank had yielded 205 points in the regular season.
This one clearly went to Norwalk and it was over in a flash. The Lancers scored four touchdowns in the first quarter and routed the Bulldogs 49-14 at the brand new Memorial Stadium on the campus of John Burroughs High School. But while the offense was doing what it normally does, the defense was equally as impressive, forcing a pair of first quarter fumbles within Burbank’s first seven plays from scrimmage.
“Our defense really played,” said Norwalk head coach Jesse Ceniceros. “You can’t ask for anything better than to come out in a game like that and set the tempo. We got two turnovers right off the bat and we were able to move the ball on offense. To establish a game like that; to come out that early and put some points on the board and get those two turnovers was huge.”
Norwalk (9-2 overall) took the opening kickoff and moved 53 yards on seven plays culminated by a five-yard touchdown run from junior wingback Rashaad Penny. On Burbank’s first play, senior lineman Davonte Williams recovered a fumble and seven seconds later, the Lancers went up 14-0 after junior wingback Matthew Ortega went in from four yards out.
Following a three and out by Norwalk’s defense, senior wingback Bryan Sullivan scampered 33 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead midway through the opening quarter. Penny then recovered a fumble and six plays later, scored from seven yards out to put the game away early. The 28 first quarter points were a season high as Norwalk has now outscored its opponents 119-53 in the first quarter.
Senior fullback Malcom McAllister got into the scoring party with a 10-yard run nearly three minutes into the second quarter. After that, the Bulldogs put together their most sustained drive of the first half. But after 11 plays and driving to the Norwalk 13-yard line, Ryan Merideth was incomplete on a fourth down pass. The Bulldogs finally got on the board with 1:16 left in the half when Merideth tossed an 18-yard pass to Teddy Arlington.
Through the first 24 minutes, Norwalk had piled up 274 yards on the ground with Penny gaining 102 yards. But Burbank’s version of Penny, James Williams, was limited to 21 yards on half a dozen carries. Williams had entered the game with 1,414 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, just 153 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns behind Penny’s regular season output.
“They just looked very well coached and they looked very fundamentally sound,” Ceniceros said. “Honestly, I was really scared coming into this game, not knowing what we were going to see. But we have a good team here.”
Burbank began the second half the same way it ended the first half. A 3:47 drive of 10 plays ended when Arlington scored from four yards out. The Bulldogs were aided by a pair of personal foul penalties. But after that, the Lancers went back to work with smash mouth, ball control football, solid defense and disciplined play. The Lancers didn’t have another penalty the rest of the way and was flagged just three times for 40 yards in the game.
“We knew that in the regular season, penalties were our bump in the road,” Ceniceros said. “We did a really good job at [limiting] that.”
With the score now 35-14, Norwalk chewed up over six minutes and ran 12 straight times, the last coming on a two-yard run from senior quarterback Jacquise Hooper. When the Lancers got the ball again, it took another 7:35 off the clock with Ortega scoring from a yard out. In all, Norwalk racked up 414 yards on the ground with Penny leading the way with 157 yards on 22 carries. Sullivan followed with 103 yards on nine carries and McAllister added 85 yards on 13 touches. Thanks to Norwalk’s defense, Burbank was held to 217 yards, 63 coming on the ground from just 26 rushes.
The Lancers offense faced a third down situation five times and was successful three times. On fourth down, they were true both times. Norwalk had 25 first downs as opposed to 13 by the Bulldogs.
This was Norwalk’s sixth playoff game on the road during the Ceniceros era and the Lancers have won four of those games. In contrast, Norwalk is just 2-2 at Excelsior Stadium in the playoffs since 2008. Norwalk will host San Gabriel Valley League tri champions and fourth ranked Downey tonight. The Vikings enter the contest at 8-3 and earned the billing as the top representative from the SGVL after winning a coin flip over Dominguez and Paramount. Since 1998, Norwalk is 2-4 against the SGVL including a 48-13 win at Warren on Sept. 7.
“When you play on a field like this and you step onto our home field, I’d rather play away,” Ceniceros said. “I’m just being honest. Maybe that will motivate our district to try and get something going with our facilities. But honestly, I’d rather play every playoff game away.”
A Lancers victory would give them a home game against Suburban League champion and top ranked La Mirada in the semifinals should the Matadores defeat Santa Fe.