The Norwalk football team dug itself out of a 20-0 hole Friday night against visiting Port Clinton — but third-down defense played a critical role in a 27-21 loss to the Redskins at Whitney Field.
Norwalk scored with 6:15 left in the game to pull within 27-21, but an illegal procedure penalty on the ensuing kickoff set the Redskins up at their own 35.
Port Clinton then picked up four yards on a third-and-4 from its 41, and three plays later on a third-and-9 from the 46 — a 28-yard run by Tony Nesbitt with 2:50 left. Finally, Norwalk exhausted its final timeout with 1:25 left, but Cooper Stine ran for six yards on a third-and-5 from the Norwalk 13 to allow the ‘Skins to run out the clock.
In all, Port Clinton was 10-of-14 on third-down plays for the game.
“And it started from the very first series,” Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland said. “We had them third-and-nine on the third play of the game and they run for 10 yards. If we stop them there and get them to punt, who knows what the momentum is like.
“Instead, they extended all those drives and got on us with the big lead,” he added. “We’ve got to eliminate those types of things we have going on right now.”
Trailing 20-0 with 25 seconds left in the first half, things looked bleak for the Truckers (1-2). But the Norwalk offense, which had just 53 yards total to that point, found a spark.
Senior quarterback Andrew Ehrenberg connected with Kaden Livingston for 16 yards to midfield. He spiked the ball the next play to stop the clock with 14 seconds left in the second quarter.
Ehrenberg then found Josh Welfle for a 36-yard pass to the Port Clinton 4-yard line, prompting a timeout with eight seconds left. The very next play, Ehrenberg and Welfle connected on a short out pattern for a 4-yard TD pass with three seconds left in the half.
The first of three Garrison Smith PATs gave the Truckers life, down 20-7 at halftime.
Norwalk received the ball to begin the third quarter — and seized the momentum even more so. Port Clinton (2-1) committed four consecutive penalties to aid a 10-play, 64-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard run from Trevon Raymore with 7:49 left in the quarter, which cut the deficit to 20-14.
But the Redskins had an answer — and it was a time-consuming one. They took the ensuing drive 74 yards over 12 plays, spanning 5:11 of the third quarter as Cooper Stine scored for a second time from a yard out. The PAT made it a 27-14 Norwalk deficit with 2:32 left in the third.
Each teams then traded possessions, but Norwalk found a way back in the game once again. Faced with a fourth-and-4 from the 49, Ehrenberg and Welfle again connected for a 21-yard gain to keep the drive alive. A pass interference penalty on third down three plays later put the Truckers inside the red zone, and Raymore this time scored on a 6-yard run with 6:15 left for the final points of the game.
Though the Truckers stayed within striking distance, it was still a tough night as they allowed 422 yards of total offense to the Redskins, who ran for 248 and passed for 174.
“Defensively, adjustments are being made, but we’re just not making tackles,” MacFarland said. “It’s all technique and fundamental things they can correct, and we’ll just keep grinding it.
“At halftime we even said if we can keep them at 20 points, then scoring 21 just might do it tonight,” he added. “We came out and did exactly what we wanted to start the third quarter, but then they come right back with a long drive down the field on us. It’s that consistency.”
Ehrenberg was 12-of-20 passing for 118 yards with a TD and an interception, with Welfle catching six passes for 101 yards and the score. Raymore added 79 yards on 17 attempts.
“Our offense just did not come out and click,” MacFarland said. “And we had some things that were open and there, but we missed a pass here, dropped a ball there, committed a penalty. It’s that consistency theme we’ve had for three weeks — we have to become more consistent.”
Norwalk will entertain Margaretta next Friday looking to get back to .500.
“It’s not an excuse, but we have a lot of young kids out there that are growing up fast, and we’re counting on them,” MacFarland said. “We believe in them, it’s just hard for them to play at that level of consistency all the time.”