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WEEK ZERO FOOTBALL: Penny gets Norwalk going in emotional season opener

By Loren Kopff

Norwalk’s season-opening victory over visiting Long Beach Cabrillo last Friday night wasn’t as explosive as its 58-26 triumph over the Jaguars last season. In fact, the Lancers had to rally in the fourth quarter, then stave off a potential game-winning touchdown by their opponent in the final minute.

But if it’s crunch time and if it’s Norwalk football, then senior wingback

English: State Seal of the California Intersch...

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

Penny is involved. Penny capped off an 11-play, 66-yard, 5:41 drive with a one-yard run with 5:17 left in the game to give the Lancers a 20-15 win at Excelsior Stadium. Penny, who injured his ankle in the third quarter, ended with 148 yards on 15 carries and scored twice. Penny was also playing the game with a heavy heart.

“This is a fight for my team,” Penny said. “This is an emotional win and I couldn’t do it without my O-line blocking. But then we stepped it up on defense. I knew we were going to get a big play; I had it on my mind. This is for my Aunt Martha. She passed two weeks ago and this is one I’m going to keep for the record books. I wish her the best.”

In addition to Penny’s minor injury, Norwalk head coach Jesse Ceniceros had to get through some other obstacles throughout the contest, including the muggy weather conditions and the 60 penalty yards in the first half.

“There were a lot of different factors,” Ceniceros said. “The heat was a major factor. We had kids cramping up and it seems we have a couple of injuries in key spots. [Cabrillo] is a hell of a football team. I’m not going to take anything away from them.”

Norwalk struck first on its opening possession of the game but while Penny rushed for 38 yards on five carries, it was senior wingback Matthew Ortega’s five-yard run that gave the hosts a 7-0 lead. The defense was holding its own despite giving up a pair of 13-yard receptions and a 12-yard catch from Rahshead Johnson in the opening quarter. Cabrillo punted twice, had a drive stall on downs and fumbled once in the first half.

With just under a minute remaining in the half, Penny, in midseason form, busted loose for a 62-yard touchdown run. Then he thought he had given the Lancers a 20-0 lead after he returned the second half kickoff 95 yards. But a holding penalty nullified that and Norwalk eventually fumbled on the seventh play of the drive.

Cabrillo took advantage and got on the scoreboard with 4:55 left in the third quarter on a five-yard run from Kaelon Price. On Norwalk’s next possession, Penny didn’t have a carry among the five plays the team ran but was able to punt despite his injury. The Jaguars were able to drive a short 41 yards to take the lead 62 seconds into the fourth quarter when Price threw a 15-yard score to Darren Gardenhire, who also ran in the two-point conversion.

After that, Penny returned to action and seemed like new. He gained 12 yards on the first two plays of the drive, then 13 more on back to back rushes moments later before ending the drive on a three-yard run and his second touchdown.

“He talked me into putting him in at the end,” Ceniceros said. “I probably shouldn’t have let him do that but we’re just going to hang in there. We have a tough game next week too with Diamond Bar. We just have to stay healthy.”

However, the game wasn’t decided until junior cornerback Ryan McDowell recovered a fumble at the Norwalk 12-yard line with 41.8 seconds left in the game. The fumble came after Cabrillo had driven to the three-yard line and was facing a third and one situation.

Ortega picked up 85 yards on 14 carries while McDowell and senior fullback Xavier Fuery combined for 60 yards on nine carries. Senior cornerback Nick Fernandez led Norwalk with seven tackles while senior linebacker Jose Abrina added six tackles. Norwalk, which moved from fourth to third in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Southeast Division top 10 poll, will visit Diamond Bar tonight.

“I’m really proud of our kids because I told the kids today about homemade football,” Ceniceros said. “We’re working with kids who are from Norwalk; they were born and raised here. We don’t get a lot of transfers coming in and we are making football players out of them.”

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