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Week Five Football- Herrera, Mueller Carry Norwalk To Sixth Straight Victory Over El Rancho

Norwalk High senior running back Michael Mueller fends off Andrew Bojorquez of El Rancho High in last Friday night’s final non-league game for the Lancers. Mueller rushed 18 times for 223 yards and had touchdown runs of 56, 58 and 58 yards, all in the second half, as Norwalk picked up a 44-30 victory. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

At the postgame get together following Norwalk High’s win over El Rancho High last Friday, senior quarterback Caden Barnhill spoke about how it was a ‘great team win’. Those short words got the rest of the Lancers amped up, probably as much as they had been all season.

Through six games last season, Norwalk was 4-2 and had lost to El Rancho 34-7 before its Suburban League opener. This season, you could see why the Lancers were giddy after the postgame speech was over as those players had just held off the Dons 44-30 and, in the process, improved to 6-0 heading into their bye week. It’s the best start for any Norwalk team since 2013, when the Lancers were 13-0 before falling to La Serna High in the CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division championship game.

Norwalk grabbed the first lead almost five minutes in when senior running back David Herrera cashed in from five yards out. The Dons answered back in one of the most unusual ways as senior safety Jesse Barrientez picked up a fumble and ran the wrong way for a safety. But Norwalk rebounded from the blunder and after a punt pinned the Lancers at their own one yard line, an offside penalty led to Herrera scampering 95 yards for a touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion from junior Angel Lima Guerra.

El Rancho responded by going 71 yards on nine plays, ending that drive with a three-yard score from Daniel Rodriguez just two seconds left in the quarter. The nine points were the most given up by the Lancers in the first quarter this season.

“It was another game where the kids…we told the kids don’t let this game get too big; it’s just another game,” said Norwalk head coach Ruben Guerrero. “I said, ‘hey, there’s a list of 10 games on the wall and this is just number six. Try to keep it in your head and keep thinking that way’. But I think they kind of let this game [get too big] because El Rancho had the hammer on us from last year.”

Good things would be on the horizon for the hosts as senior Nelson Vasquez punted four plays into the second quarter. But the punt hit a teammate and the loose ball was pounced on by senior linebacker Daniel Castillo, putting the Lancers in business. The combination of Herrera and senior running back Michael Mueller rushed on all nine plays of the drive, which covered 71 yards, and ended with Herrera’s third score of the night, a two-yard run.

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Norwalk High senior running back David Herrera has himself a big night last Friday against El Rancho High rushing 18 times for 246 yards and scoring three first half touchdowns as the Lancers defeated the Dons 44-30, improving to 6-0 as they enter their bye week. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

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“Our big strength in our team is that we don’t let down no matter what,” said Herrera. “We always keep our heads up even if a bad play comes. [It’s] short term memory and we come back the next play.”

As quick as the Lancers built a 12-point lead, it was quickly decreased as Ryan Vasquez launched a 71-yard touchdown strike to Angel Diaz 65 seconds later. It came on the third play of El Rancho’s only drive of the stanza and at the half, Norwalk had already gained 268 yards, all on the ground, and had run 26 plays. El Rancho, showing that this might be Norwalk’s toughest non-league opponent, had ran 20 plays for 173 yards in the half.

“It’s a high energy bunch and like I said, they just might have let this game get a little bit bigger than it should have,” said Guerrero. “I think they were a little bit uneasy at the beginning there. At halftime, once we got [in the locker room] and made adjustments, calm each other down; settle them down, they seemed to come out in the second half a little bit more at ease.”

With 7:41 left in the third quarter, Mueller picked off Ryan Vasquez less than a minute later, his 56-yard run made it 29-16. Mueller would later score on a 58-yard run and when Herrera added the two-point conversion, it looked as if the Lancers would run away with the game, up 37-16 with 3:05 left in the third quarter.

But one of Norwalk’s downfalls over the years has been its pass defense, and it showed as the Ryan Vasquez to Diaz combination worked again, this time for 52 yards with 1:34 left in the stanza. Following a punt with 7:21 left in the game, the Dons completed a nine-play, 57-yard drive with Ryan Vasquez tossing a 36-yard score to Rodriguez and just like that, it was 37-30 with 4:31 left.

“The screen pass is probably the biggest thing,” said Herrera when asked what concerns El Rancho presented in the game. “We couldn’t get hold of the screen and they put up some points, but we took over from there.”

“It did [present a problem], but I think the kids answered the bell,” said Guerrero. “You saw Michael have an interception there late when we needed one. Our defense has been getting better and better every week. They’ve been working very, very hard to get better every week and I think they put on a decent showing tonight. They showed up tonight and they really kept us in the game tonight.”

The Dons would get a lucky bounce on the ensuing kickoff and recovered a fumble, but could gain seven yards on four plays, giving the Lancers the break they needed to ice the game. On the second play of the drive, Mueller busted loose for a 58-yard run making it 44-30 with 2:18 remaining. The decision to throw the ball instead of chewing up some time by running in the final minutes, hoping to tie the game, was a surprise to many.

“I’m thinking they’re trying to make big chunks of yards; they’re trying to score right away so they could do an onside kick, which you saw them do,” said Guerrero. “I think they wanted to score fast, get the ball back, score again because even only two scores would tie the game.”

Five players combined to rush for 495 yards on 48 plays as Norwalk once again proved it is a dangerous running team with the double-wing offense intact. Herrera and Mueller each carried the pigskin 18 times with the former gaining 246 yards while Mueller picked up 223 yards.

“Michael is more of those power running backs, and I like to get out in open space and make the moves,” said Herrera. “That’s how we do it; it’s a one-two punch. You can stop one, but you can’t stop the other.”

“The kids are two years in the program now as far as how we do things,” said Guerrero. “We preach to these kids hard work and I tell them hard work will come around full circle for you if you stay on that circle. If you get off that arc, that’s not going to come back around, and I think they’re reaping the benefits of a lot that hard work.”

The next time the Lancers will be in action will be their Mid-Cities League opener against Lynwood High, which will also be Norwalk’s homecoming game. It will be the fourth out of six straight home games and will be the first meeting with the Knights in over 25 years. At 5-1, Lynwood is off to the program’s best start since beginning the 2014 season with five straight wins.

“These guys are coming together,” said Guerrero. “These guys are starting to believe in each other, they’re starting to believe in the process, they’re starting to believe in the program, and I think that’s what it was. They’re starting to gel and they’re feeding off each other. My hat’s off to these kids. They just played real hard tonight.”

“We’re just going to take this one day at a time and hard as ever [in practice] everyday, even if it’s a week off,” said Herrera.

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