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WEEK TEN FOOTBALL La Mirada claims Suburban League crown as injuries continue for Norwalk

By Loren Kopff

LA MIRADA-With the Suburban League championship at stake on the last week of the 2014 season, Norwalk junior quarterback Ausencio Navarro limped into La Mirada’s Goodman Stadium, not in full uniform gear. He was the latest of what has become an injury-plagued season for the defending league title holders.

Without Navarro and junior running back Chris Walker, the team’s leading ground gainer who was injured three weeks earlier, the Lancers couldn’t muster much of an attack in the first half and succumbed to La Mirada 35-21 last Friday night.

While the host Lancers finished with close to 300 yards on the ground and outscored the Matadores 21-7 in the second half, it was the first half that spelled doom for Norwalk. That’s when La Mirada scored on four of its first five possessions and got a near-perfect performance from quarterback Christian Lara, who was seven of eight for 190 yards and four touchdowns in the first 24 minutes.

“It’s just been one of those seasons where we’ve been decimated with injuries,” said Norwalk head coach Jesse Ceniceros. “We’re all banged up, but we had a gift in week four where Ausencio Navarro showed up to us. It was a gift from God because he’s such a great athlete; a good quarterback and [then] he goes and gets hurt.”

To some, the win may have been payback for Norwalk’s 42-35 win over the Matadores on the second to last week of the 2013 season. But for La Mirada head coach Mike Moschetti, it was simply his fifth league title in the past six seasons.

“It’s not about [revenge],” Moschetti said. “We have nothing but respect for Norwalk; their players, their coaching staff. Last year was last year. We came out and played really well in the first half. In the second half we made a ton of mistakes. We gave them their first touchdown; we gave them 30 yards in penalties on the drive, which led to the touchdown.”

The Lancers punted on its first five possessions and when the Matadores had the ball, it didn’t take very long for them to find the end zone. On La Mirada’s fourth play of the game, Lara connected with Tony Brown, who escaped would-be tacklers, for a 50-yard score. Then on its first play of the second quarter, Landon Jones made a shoestring catch from Lara and raced untouched 86 yards for a 14-0 lead almost two minutes into the stanza.

When the Matadores got the ball again, Lara hooked up with Sei-j Lauago for a 40-yard score and following a three and out, Lara tossed a seven-yard score to a wide open Robert Caggiano in the right corner of the end zone.

“We gave them the game,” Ceniceros said. “Anytime you miss tackles like that…they’re very athletic. Mike’s got a great football team. But again, you have to make tackles.”

”He did a great job,” Moschetti said of his signal caller. “Christian has been our leader all year. He just does things right. When he has to take off and make plays with his feet, he does. He never gets too high and he never gets too low.”

While Norwalk (7-3 overall, 5-1 in league) was held to 81 yards on the ground in the first half and didn’t cross midfield until the final seconds of the half, courtesy of a pass interference call, it was vintage Lancers after halftime. After forcing La Mirada to punt on the opening drive of the half, the Lancers held the ball for 6:29 and got on the board when junior Jesse Lotts went in from four yards out.

On the first play following the ensuing kickoff, Lara and Brown hooked up again for a 71-yard connection down the left sideline. Lotts would make it 35-14 two seconds into the fourth quarter after a one-yard run following another punt, Norwalk went on even a longer drive.

Starting at the 20-yard line, Norwalk ran 19 times, the last being a three-yard score from senior running back Tyrant Davis. The drive was kept alive when La Mirada was called for a roughing the passer penalty after Navarro was picked off by Brown near midfield.

“We made adjustments,” Ceniceros said. “I’m proud of our kids. We’re actually confident going into the playoffs, as long as heel up a little bit during the week.”

“Norwalk did a good job,” Moschetti said. “Give them credit. They controlled the ball in the second half; they ate up clock and we didn’t have many possessions offensively. It’s tough when you get a big lead and you get a little conservative and that’s my fault. But we’re happy and we’re grateful for the win, but we have to clear up a lot of [things].”

Senior wingback Ryan McDowell led Norwalk with 99 yards on 11 carries while junior running back Gevon Moore added 87 yards on 16 carries. Lara finished with nine completions in 12 attempts for 261 yards and Lauago led the ground attack with 83 yards on seven carries. Davis and junior outside linebacker Kirk Brown each had three tackles for Norwalk, which drew Paramount in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Southeast Division playoffs. The Pirates finished third in the San Gabriel Valley League with a 6-4 mark. La Mirada, ranked second, will host Angelus League at-large representative Salesian, who will come in with a 4-6 record.