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Gateway League Football – Norwalk Puts Up Fight In First Half Before Downey, Rios Cruise To League-Opening Win

October 4, 2023

By Loren Kopff@LorenKopff on Twitter

For nearly 22 minutes, Norwalk High stayed right with Downey High, the defending CIF-Southern Section Division 4 champions last Friday night. In fact, the host Lancers were owning the time of possession despite trailing by four points.

But a late touchdown to end the half was the beginning of 21 straight points and the Vikings ran away with a 35-10 victory in the Gateway League opener. It was also the first Gateway League contest for Norwalk, which came over from the Mid-Cities League where it shared last season’s crown with Bellflower High and Gahr High.

“We were right there with them,” said Norwalk head coach Ruben Guerrero. “We put [together] a nice, long drive. That’s what we thought we needed to do to be successful today. We took a nice, long drive in the first quarter [and] we punched it in. That first quarter, we thought we were in there.”

The 10 points is a season low for a team that had been averaging nearly 44 points through its first five games. Downey began the game by driving 70 yards in 2:25 and scoring the game’s first touchdown when quarterback Oscar Rios, who is double trouble with his arm and legs, tossed a 31-yard pass to Dante Sams. That would be the only time the Vikings would touch the ball in the quarter because Norwalk (3-3, 0-1) rode the legs of senior running back Caleb Mitchell and junior running back Ezra Mueller, who combined to rush 11 times for 33 yards. Junior fullback Papo Lieataua added three carried for 13 yards as the stanza came to an end at 7-0.

But on the first play of the second quarter, Mueller went in from a yard out to tie the game. The Vikings (5-1, 1-0) responded on the ensuing drive and regained the lead when Victor Morales scored on a 12-yard run with 8:45 left in the half. Norwalk then put together another long drive, this one lasting 6:02 and ending when senior Jese Lopez booted a 32-yard field goal with under three minutes left.

Mitchell and Mueller, plus a couple of Downey penalties, had put the Lancers at the nine-yard line. But a key holding penalty on second down, and a fumble prevented the hosts from getting closer to the end zone.

“We stalled there in the second quarter, so we went for three,” said Guerrero. “We were like, ‘hey, we’re in this game guys. We were hanging with them; nobody thought we would be where we’re at right now, so you have nothing to lose. Let’s just give them as much hell as we can’. And we did; we did for as long as we could. Then we saw a little bit of separation in the caliber of team that they are and us. But that one touchdown put us in a position where we had to start thinking and we had to start functioning, even under duress. That’s kind of what rattled us.”

After that, it was all Downey in the scoring department while the Lancers continued to own the clock but with nothing to show for. Rios connected with Jesse Albidrez for a 55-yard scoring play with 1:46 left in the half. Then after Norwalk had to punt after a seven play, 31-yard drive in the first 5:22 of the second half, Rios iced the game with an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play following the punt.

That would be the only score of the third quarter as Downey ran three plays in the stanza. While Norwalk would run 28 plays in the second half, gaining 108 yards on the ground, it had drives ending in two punts, one on downs and the game. In fact, the Lancers had the ball for 36:14 and gained 249 yards. Mueller rushed for 106 yards on 26 carries while Mitchell added 60 yards on 15 touches. Junior backup quarterback Nicolas Barrera completed a pair of first half passes for 61 yards. Sophomore Rylee Sosa, the starting quarterback all season, had a bum shoulder, according to Guerrero. On defense, Mitchell had three tackles while senior lineman Jonathan Anguiano had a pair of tackles.

But in the end, Norwalk was just overwhelmed by Rios, who was 10 of 16 for 208 yards and rushed four times for 119 yards. Morales added 35 yards on five carries while three other players combined for 45 yards on six carries.

“Because of what they do, he’s really able to show off the capability of that offense,” Guerrero said of Rios. “He can throw it, he can run it, he can read it, he makes good decisions. We think he’s one of their better athletes on that team. He did a real good job tonight of finding the spots in the defense to be successful.”

It only gets tougher for the Lancers, who host defending league champion Warren High on Friday. The Bears are 4-2 and roughed up Mayfair High 49-14 last Friday in the league opener for both teams. Freshman Kelton Strickland rushed for 169 yards on 24 carries and scored twice and leads the team with close to 800 yards on the ground. Lynnden Hodge is next with 255 yards on 36 carries and a touchdown while Madden Iamaleava and Kimani Tuiitasi have combined to complete 51 passes in 91 attempts for 959 yards and 10 touchdowns.

As a team, Warren has averaged 350 yards a game but 33 points a game. Defensively, the Bears have yielded 151 points as their two losses have been to Serra High, 27-0, and Woodford County High out of Versailles, KY, 40-39.

“Once we got to league this week, the kids really elevated their practice,” said Guerrero. “They really elevated their mental approach. You know what, I think they’re ready. Like I said earlier, we’re going to go give them as much hell as we can. We’re Norwalk football and we’re just going to go and give them everything we’ve got. We’re going to let the chips fall where they may.”

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