Early turnovers cost Norwalk

·6 min read

Sep. 18—NORWALK — Two things had to happen Friday for the Norwalk High School football team.

Facing state powerhouse Columbus Bishop Hartley, the Truckers couldn't allow the big play on defense, and had to score when they had chances.

For the better part of three quarters, neither area was successful for Norwalk. The state-ranked Hawks scored five straight touchdowns for a 34-0 lead before the Truckers scored three times in the fourth quarter of a 34-21 loss at Contractors Stadium at the Warren C. Whitney Complex.

Hartley (3-2) — ranked No. 13 in the first Associated Press state poll in Division III — scored on plays of 35, 71 and 83 yards in the first half. The Truckers (1-4) were intercepted inside the Hartley 20-yard line and had first-and-goal from the Hawks' 3 in the first half and did not score either time.

"Coming in we knew we couldn't give up the big play, and it felt like we did that all night long," Norwalk head coach Todd Fox said. "And, we had to take care of situations when we had opportunities. We had those two critical opportunities and we just didn't put it in the end zone.

"We're not there yet where Hartley is, but we want to be there and it's why we play teams like this and the others we've faced so far," he added. "We're 1-4 and it's not where we want to be, but this is getting us to where we want to be as the league starts. Now, it doesn't get any easier going to Bellevue (next week) obviously, but we feel we're battle-tested and ready to go."

The Hawks went right down the field to start the game. They moved 76 yards in seven plays in 3:20 as quarterback Peyton Underwood found Trey Saunders for a 35-yard touchdown pass up the left sideline for six points. The first of four Alex Gabriel extra points put the Hawks up 7-0 at the 8:36 mark of the first quarter.

Norwalk moved the ball to midfield on its initial possession, but were forced to punt. Two plays later, the Hawks fumbled and the Truckers recovered at the Hartley 20. But on the very next play, Payne Flores was intercepted and the Hawks got the ball right back.

Hartley then moved 72 yards in just four plays, with Nyal Johnson scoring on a 4-yard run for a 14-0 lead with 1:39 left in the opening quarter.

After another Norwalk punt, the Hawks needed just four plays to cover 89 yards. Richard Kenny found a seam up the left sideline, then cutback to the middle of the field and outran three Norwalk defenders on a 71-yard score. The hold was mishandled on the PAT, but the Hawks had a 20-0 lead with 7:47 left in the second quarter.

The game then made its second critical turn. The Truckers used a 17-yard run by Flores and six straight runs by Jarren McLendon that covered 50 yards to move deep into Hartley territory.

But after reaching the 3-yard line on second down, Flores was thrown for a five-yard loss, Kade Staley for a 1-yard loss — then Flores was sacked for an 8-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 9 with 1:18 left in the half.

The Hawks weren't content to run out the clock, either. Saunders dashed up the left sideline, then simply outran the Norwalk defense for a back-breaking 83-yard touchdown run.

In a matter of eight seconds, the Truckers went from potentially scoring to down 27-0 with 1:09 left in the half.

The Truckers again moved the ball well to start the third, but turned it over on downs at the Harltey 31. The Hawks then covered 69 yards in 10 plays, as Johnson scored on another 4-yard run with 1:37 left in the third for a 34-0 lead.

But from there, the Truckers finally got some things going. A 38-yard pass from Flores to Sam Battles set up a 28-yard TD pass from Flores to McLendon with 8:36 left in the game. The Ryan Fox PAT made it a 34-7 deficit.

With Hartley using up the clock with its backup running backs, the Hawks pushed forward a pile for five yards on a fourth-and-2 play from near midfield. But before the ball carrier could go down, McLendon swiped the ball from him and dashed 60 yards the other way for a fumble return TD with 4:27 left.

After Gabriel missed to the left on a 53-yard field goal attempt, Flores then connected with Battles three plays later for a 78-yard TD pass with 1:17 left. Norwalk attempted an onside kick and actually recovered, but it was ruled the ball came just short of going the required 10 yards.

The Hawks then knelt down the final two plays for the final score.

"At that point they had put their foot off the gas pedal a little bit, but I am proud of our guys for not letting up," Fox said of the fourth quarter. "That's critical for us. But it's midseason now. Lessons are over. It's time to get to work with a big week the way the (Bellevue) Redmen are rolling."

Saunders, who has offers from Air Force, Army and several Ivy League schools, touched the ball five times for 147 yards and 2 TDs — all in the first half — to lead Hartley. Johnson added 75 yards and 2 TDs on 11 attempts.

A sophomore, McLendon ran 24 times for 130 yards to go with his TD catch and fumble return score. Flores was 5-of-9 passing for 154 yards and 2 TD passes, with Battles catching three passes for 123 yards and a score.

Fox said McLendon had the hot hand for the Truckers on a night where they limited senior Daniel Traczek's carries.

"Daniel was a little banged up, so we wanted to lighten his workload and make sure both our inside linebackers were OK," he said. "Jarren had been scratching the surface, but he got in a groove tonight and we went with him. But we have others who I know can do some things, too."

The Truckers visit Bellevue (4-1) next Friday in the SBC Lake opener.

"We'll get better, and now we're at a critical time," Fox said. "But we're going to be battle-tested for what lies ahead for this team."

Hartley 14 13 7 0 — 34

Norwalk 0 0 0 21 — 21

H — Trey Saunders 35 pass from Peyton Underwood (Alex Gabriel kick)

H — Nyal Johnson 4 run (Gabriel kick)

H — Richard Kenny 71 run (pass failed)

H — Saunders 83 run (Gabriel kick)

H — Johnson 4 run (Gabriel kick)

N — Jarren McLendon 28 pass from Payne Flores (Ryan Fox kick)

N — McLendon 60 fumble return (Fox kick)

N — Sam Battles 78 pass from Flores (Fox kick)

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