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Norwalk High senior Etieni Valele muscles his way for some yardage in last Friday’s 63-14 win against Artesia High. Valele gained 21 yards on seven carries and scored on a three-yard run in the third quarter. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer. 


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

It was very clear that the Norwalk High football team was ready to put its two-game midseason slide in the rear and head into a possible trip to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs with some momentum. The Lancers did that with a lot of momentum, highlighted by a pair of standout players.

Senior running back Billy Moore scored three second half touchdowns and junior quarterback Brionne Penny, who was relegated mostly as a special teams specialist, accounted for four more touchdowns as Lancers trounced visiting Artesia High 63-14 last Friday night at Excelsior Stadium. Norwalk ends the regular season at 7-3 overall, 4-2 in the Suburban League and locked down third place and a postseason berth.

“I think we’re playing pretty good,” said Norwalk head coach Otis Harrison. “I’m probably our worst critic. I’m probably hard on the guys. I just wanted to make sure I told them that I was proud of them no matter what. It takes a lot of guts to finish the season. I think we’re coming together at the right time. I hate to sound so cliché, but I’ll take this momentum right now over where we were six or seven weeks ago by far.”

Both teams traded punts three times in the opening quarter before Penny returned the second Artesia punt 19 yards to put the Lancers in business at the Artesia-39-yard line. Then Moore carried the ball three straight times and had a 24-yard reception from senior quarterback A.J. Morales to set up a one-yard score from senior running back Josh Martinez with 2.9 seconds left in the stanza.

The Pioneers (4-6 overall, 2-4 in league) were forced to punt for a third straight time four plays into the second quarter and this time, Penny ran it back 46 yards to the house. Artesia, which scored a school record 87 points last week against Cerritos High, got on the board four plays after Penny’s touchdown when junior quarterback Heder Gladden scrambled 73 yards for a touchdown. But on the ensuing kickoff, Penny went 82 yards the opposite way to make it 21-7 nearly four minutes into the second quarter.

Penny wasn’t done with finding the end zone as he caught a seven-yard pass from Morales with 1:11 left in the half. Two plays later, he picked off Gladden and went 30 yards for his fourth score of the night. Penny completed one pass in three attempts and did not have a carry in the backfield as he just needed a rushing touchdown to make his night complete. He also had a fumble recovery to stop Artesia’s first drive of the second half and two tackles on the night.

“I wanted it bad but at the end of the day, I wasn’t supposed to be playing due to issues last week,” Penny said of not getting the rushing touchdown. “But I’m just glad I got a chance to just at least get in on every special teams [play]. When I got chance to get out there, I was just hungry. I felt I wanted more. Every chance I got to be out there, I took advantage of it. I wasn’t wasting [any] time.”

“Brionne is just a tremendously gifted athlete,” Harrison said. “If you can imagine him being the best athlete out of that family, that’s saying a whole lot. And then Billy Moore…what a great comeback story. This guy tore his ACL and MCL last year and rehabbed like a maniac to get back. I’m so proud of him and I’m proud of his hard work and his character building coming together at the right time.”

“I did not even think about that,” Harrison later said of Penny not getting a rushing touchdown. “I just know that if you put that guy on the field, his mind is in the right place. He enjoys playing the game.”

If Penny owned the first half, then the rest of the game was about Moore. First, he was crowned homecoming king during the halftime festivities. Then he gained 91 yards on nine carries after halftime and all three of his touchdowns.

“It was very special for me and my family because I came back from an ACL and MCL surgery last year,” Moore said. “It was just a great feeling to be back out here with my team. I thank my O-linemen too; they did a really good job tonight.”

After senior running back Etieni Valele scored on a three-yard run on Norwalk’s opening possession of the second half, Moore scored from 30 yards out with 4:31 remaining to make it 49-7. Artesia senior running back Xavier Yoakum added a three-yard run on the ensuing possession. But Moore closed out the game’s scoring with a three-yard run early in the fourth quarter and a seven-yard scamper later in the quarter. The Lancers would run five plays in the fourth quarter as the running clock was in effect. Moore gained a game-high 175 yards on 21 carries. Defensively, Martinez led the Lancers with five tackles.

“I thank my whole team because they pushed me, and I pushed these guys as well,” Moore said. “This is just very special because we worked too hard for this. It’s a great motivation going into the playoffs.”

“Man, Billy Moore is my guy at the end of the day,” Penny said. “I told him we had to play together because one [guy] isn’t going to do it. We had to make the whole team do it. I just appreciate him being by my side always. Billy is an amazing dude on and off the field.”

Moore also caught two passes for 38 yards while Valele added 21 yards on seven carries. Norwalk began the season with three straight wins and five in their first six before losing to La Mirada High and Mayfair High in consecutive weeks. But, the Lancers rolled up 132 points and yielded 20 points to close out the season with their bye in between the final two games. Now, they will visit St. Anthony High tonight in the Division 9 first round playoffs. The Saints are also 7-3 and won the Santa Fe League.

“We just came out and tried to play hard because all week, we’ve been trying to fight for a [playoff] spot,” Penny said. “After we lost the games to Mayfair and La Mirada, we really went down.”

Gladden led the Pioneers with 165 yards on 15 carries and completed four of nine passes for 49 yards to four different receivers. Yoakum chipped in with another 48 yards on 13 touches. Yoakum, senior cornerback Gustavo Hernandez and sophomore linebacker LaQuan Ware-Morales all had four tackles for the Pioneers.