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WEEK NINE FOOTBALL: Tempers heat up as Norwalk vaults into third place in Suburban League

 Photo caption: Artesia senior cornerback Andres Covarrubias makes a tackle on Norwalk senior running back Jordan Thomas in last Friday night's Suburban League game. Thomas led the Lancers with 125 yards and one rushing touchdown. Norwalk won 40-28 to clinch at least a share of third place.

Artesia senior cornerback Andres Covarrubias makes a tackle on Norwalk senior running back Jordan Thomas in last Friday night’s Suburban League game. Thomas led the Lancers with 125 yards and one rushing touchdown. Norwalk won 40-28 to clinch at least a share of third place. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS.


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


With third place in the Suburban League, as well as playoff implications in their respective divisions on the line, Norwalk High fought back another awful performance in the discipline department against Artesia High. The Lancers returned a fumble and an interception for touchdowns and rode the legs of senior running back Jordan Thomas in a 40-28 victory last Friday night.

When Norwalk was last in action, it racked up 175 yards on 15 penalties against Cerritos High on Oct. 14 in a 45-6 win, much to the chagrin of head coach Otis Harrison. Last Friday the Lancers were back to their shenanigans by being flagged 11 times for 140 yards. When Norwalk wasn’t being penalized, at least one player was seen doing pushups on the field following a touchdown. Another player was sliding into the end zone after he scored. It was those types of performances that sent Harrison into a postgame tirade against his team.

“I think we can be better than that,” Harrison said. “I think we’re better than some of the things that we did. But I will say this, our guys’ jerseys are being tugged and [the officials] don’t see that. But we get three or four penalties all in one setting and [Jordan Thomas], I can’t make him smaller. But everything he does gets a penalty.

“At some point, there are some things that I’m going to straighten out on our team as far as our [conduct],” he added. “[Not] recovering a fumble and the pushups we can definitely eliminate. If we recover a fumble, they don’t score a touchdown. We’re going to shore that up and you won’t see any more pushups out here.”

Artesia drew first blood exactly two minutes into the game when senior running back Jordan Benoit scored from 12 yards out. Norwalk would respond by chewing up nearly six minutes and getting into the end zone on a four-yard run from senior running back Raylind Butler. The Pioneers were driving again but on second and 15 from the Norwalk 40-yard line, Benoit was stopped for a six-yard loss, and then fumbled which was recovered by Thomas who returned it 54 yards for a 12-7 lead.

A missed call by the officials on an Artesia punt, which never took place, in the opening seconds of the second quarter led to Thomas scoring on a seven-yard run. The subsequent two-point conversion from sophomore quarterback Brionne Penny increased the score to 20-7.

Benoit would bring Artesia closer with an eight-yard rushing touchdown with 5:51 remaining in the half. After stopping the Lancers on downs with 65 seconds remaining in the half, the hosts were looking to go into the locker room down by six. However, junior safety Josh Martinez returned an interception 21 yards for a score which turned out to be the deal breaker as far as both teams were concerned.

“I thought we played hard,” said Artesia head coach Joe Veach. “I told the kids after the game I felt our effort was there. We knew we had to play physical against those guys. I knew we would give up some plays and I knew we would miss some tackles. The effort was there but we didn’t execute enough.”

Veach later said that the two turnovers and the issue with the punt, in which the officials said that senior Frankie Sierra touched the ground with his knee before picking up the football, led to 20 points that should not have happened.

“I think it was because that’s where deferring to the second half comes into play because, if you can get something like that…those did make a huge difference,” Harrison said of the turnovers. “They’re a boost to your team and it gave us a little bit of a breather. I did not feel safe. I wanted every single point we can get.”

Both teams failed to score on their initial drives of the second half but the Lancers added to their lead with 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter when Penny sneaked in from a yard out. Earlier in the drive, Artesia senior linebacker Frank Garcia was injured with an apparent pinched nerve in his neck or back and was taken off in an ambulance.

Norwalk sealed the game early in the fourth quarter when Butler went around the right side and down the sideline for a 24-yard score. It was the longest gain of his 55 yards on eight carries. But as he has been doing all season, the Lancers were paced by Thomas, who picked up 151 yards on 19 touches. When the game had ended, his white road jersey was anything but that. “He looks like a home team [jersey],” Harrison said. “I’m really proud of that guy. He allows us to push him hard. We got him ready this week and he’s going to carry the ball a lot more. We were really going to utilize him on defense early on in the season. And then we just had a talk [and said], ‘we’re too big and you can get yards even when nobody’s blocking’. So we’ve just been working on [him] securing the football and running hard; hard downhill. Congratulations to him.”

Artesia made the score more respectable when Benoit scored on a 38-yard run nearly halfway through the final stanza. Then junior backup quarterback Jalani Brown tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Rian Hughing with 30.6 seconds remaining. Benoit, who entered the game with a league-leading 978 yards, picked up 73 more on 11 carries. Benoit also caught six passes for 40 yards. Sophomore quarterback Heder Gladden, who was seven of 13 for 64 yards before leaving the game in the fourth quarter, added another 62 yards on 16 rushes. Gladden was third in the league prior to the game with 794 yards.

“Game plan-wise, we thought we could do some things with Heder at the beginning, and I think we were pretty successful, especially in the first drive,” Veach said. “We didn’t game plan not to use Jordan. But some of the things we thought would look good against them and would work against them involved a lot of Heder.”

“Both of those guys are great athletes and they take a lot of pride representing their school,” Harrison said of Benoit and Gladden. “[Gladden] had to be hurting in order to leave the game. A lot of respect goes to those two guys. We were just fortunate tonight to make a few more plays than what they did.”

Norwalk improved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in league as it ends the regular season tonight against Bellflower High at Excelsior Stadium. Despite the win over Artesia, the Lancers dropped one spot to eighth in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section top 10 poll. Norwalk had been ranked as high as fourth, can own third place all alone with a win against the Buccaneers. If not, then Artesia, Bellflower and Norwalk will be tied for third place.

“Listen, I pay attention to [the poll] because if you’re number one and you lose, you’re not going to drop out of 10,” Harrison said. “But if you’re number eight and you lose, [the committee] can [see] who you played. I’m very aware and in my mind, we entered the playoffs once we lost to Mayfair. We need to win out, period. I don’t think it’s promised if we lose a game that we do anything.”

As for the Pioneers, they conclude their regular season at 6-4 overall, 3-3 in the circuit. They finished with a winning season for the first time since 2013 when that team had the same overall and league record as this season. Artesia may not be in the Division 12 top 10 poll, but it still remains as one of the teams being considered for a playoff spot. One of those teams also being considered is El Dorado High, which enters its final regular season contest at 2-7. Two other teams in the top 10 are 5-4 while another one is 5-3-1.

“We’ll prepare that we’re going to the playoffs,” Veach said. “We’ve been kind of keeping tabs on everything because we knew that this was a possibility that we would be sitting here in fourth [place], possibly. We’ll just see how it unfolds.”