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Fourth quarter fumble deciding factor in Norwalk’s quarterfinal loss to Downey

By Loren Kopff


English: State Seal of the California Intersch...

English: State Seal of the California Interscholastic Federation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although it wasn’t the way it was scripted, Norwalk’s football team had Downey right where it wanted it to be in the fourth quarter of last Friday night’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Southeast Division quarterfinal game. But that turnover factor that had plagued the Lancers in previous postseason losses stared them right in the face.

Downey’s Justin Ortiz recovered a fumble with 6:57 remaining and its star running back, Justin Huff, scored the game-winner on a two-yard run with 5:18 left as the Vikings escaped with a 45-42 victory at Excelsior Stadium. Norwalk finishes the season at 9-3.

“Again, we just had too many turnovers,” said Norwalk head coach Jesse Ceniceros. “We had a center who got hurt last week, so we had to go with somebody else and obviously it showed tonight. The timing wasn’t there between the center and the quarterback.”

Norwalk fumbled three times in the game, the last coming on the ensuing kickoff following the Huff touchdown. That turnover eventually led to a 34-yard field goal from Mario Galvin which gave the fourth ranked Vikings a 10-point lead with 2:21 left in the contest. Norwalk cut into that lead with exactly one minute remaining as senior fullback Malcom McAllister rumbled for a 45-yard touchdown.

Norwalk then attempted an onside kick and thought to have recovered it at midfield. But the officials gave Downey the ball at the 49-yard line and the Vikings kneeled down a couple of times to preserve the victory.

The game got off to an ominous start as junior wingback Rashaad Penny fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. Almost four minutes later, Huff put the Vikings in front with a four-yard run. The lead would grow to 14-0 later in the stanza before Penny atoned for his mistake by scoring on a 54-yard run with 37.3 seconds left in the quarter.

Huff would cap a 14-play drive with a three-yard score to make it a 21-7 affair midway through the second quarter. But Penny began to find his groove and scored twice within the last 4:19 of the first half. The first came on a two-yard run and happened two plays after he caught a 45-yard reception from senior quarterback Jacquise Hooper. His second touchdown of the quarter, from two yards out, came immediately after he hauled in a 28-yard reception from junior Matthew Ortega on a reverse.

“It’s just something we have that we never use,” Ceniceros said. “We had to find the right time to use it and that was a perfect time.”

Norwalk’s ball control, high octane offense was somewhat held in check in the first half. Although the Lancers had 215 yards, they held the ball for only 8:23 and ran 18 plays. Downey began the second half with another long drive that lasted for almost five minutes. When it was done, Huff had cashed in from four yards out. The top running back in the San Gabriel Valley League carried the ball 32 times for 124 yards but did not have a gain longer than eight yards.

“He’s a great player,” Ceniceros said. “He made things hard for us on defense. They just have a lot of weapons there. They’re a good football team.”

After the Lancers went three and out on their first drive of the second half, Downey went up by 14 points for the third time when Jorge Reyna launched a 56-yard pass to Jeremy Villa. But Norwalk answered that with its longest drive of the game, a 69-yard, 3:18 drive that ended when McAllister had the first of his second 45-yard scoring runs. Key plays of that drive were a six-yard run from Penny on a fake punt attempt and a 14-yard gain on a reverse from Penny.

Penny would tie the game at 35-35 early in the fourth quarter on a six-yard run. The game marked the third time this season that Norwalk had rallied from 14-point deficits. The first came against Diamond Bar, which resulted in a 52-38 win. The second time was against La Mirada but a late touchdown allowed the Matadores to come away with a 29-23 win.

“Gosh, we’re just fighters,” Ceniceros said. “They showed it throughout the season where we’re down and they just continued to fight back.

“We had the opportunities,” he added. “We had it. We had the ball with [five] minutes left and it was still a tied ballgame. All we had to do was just drive it down like we did the [drive] before and we gave up the ball. There are no excuses.”

McAllister led everyone with 151 yards on nine carries while Penny added 133 yards on 17 touches. His four touchdowns marked the third time this season he has scored that many on the ground and the sixth time he has scored at least three rushing touchdowns. He finishes the season with 1,872 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns along with seven receiving touchdowns.

Norwalk loses the majority of their offensive playmakers to graduation but Penny comes back, as does a good chunk of its offensive line and defense.

“You have to understand here at Norwalk, we’re not blessed with a lot of kids that have been playing football since they were eight years old,” Ceniceros said. “Most of the kids who we work with have been playing football since their freshmen year. Maybe it is a factor; the pressure. But I’m proud of my kids.

“We did some great things with a lot of young kids,” he later added. “That’s what people need to realize. We made it to the quarterfinals and we were maybe three turnovers away from making it to the semis with a bunch of sophomores and juniors. A lot of our defense is coming back.”

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