The Norwalk football team was in a one-possession game for the right to play for the Division III state championships. The Truckers had the ball inside the 10-yard line of Kettering Alter with less than a minute to go in the third quarter.
But a devastating turn of events brought the reality of a sudden end in Friday’s 34-13 loss in a state semifinal at Wapakoneta’s Harmon Field.
After the game had ended, Fox, in his first year as head coach of the Truckers, simply looked at his players in their post-game huddle and took it all in.
““Just proud of the way they all worked,” Fox said. “The future will be bright because of our seniors. They have taught us and helped us regather to a positive direction.”
Though the score reflects a 21-point loss, Friday’s game was one the Truckers (10-4) were very much in throughout.
However, an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone proved too costly against the Associated Press poll champion Knights (13-1).
Norwalk’s second drive of the game resulted in a turnover on downs at the Alter 34. That was only the beginning of a bad trend.
Ryan Sowders caught a 46-yard pass to the Alter 15-yard line on Norwalk’s next possession. But three plays later, it was fourth-and-1 from the 7. Trevon Raymore was stopped short of the first down marker for a crushing turnover on downs.
The Truckers quickly got the ball back, and again moved inside the Alter red zone — but a false start penalty from the 9 hurt any chances of moving the ball on the stout Knights’ defense.
Alter entered the game allowing just 6.8 points per game defensively.
The Truckers kicked a field goal from Garrison Smith (28 yards) – and again just before half settled for a 28-yard field goal to make it 14-6.
Then came the game-changing turn of events in the third quarter.
First, the Truckers reached the Alter 25 before turning it over on downs. The Truckers were again short on fourth-and-1 from the Alter 7 — but the very next play, Alter quarterback Connor Bazelak found Derek Willits for a 92-yard TD pass and a 21-6 lead.
Fox said he didn’t believe anything changed defensively from the Knights in the short-yardage situations.
“No, I think they changed up and we would change up, it was a chess match,” he said. “We both made errors, and those things happen in a state semifinal game. They made a few more key plays than we did.”
Conversely, Fox was pleased with the Norwalk defense. The Truckers stopped the Knights on four straight possessions before the one-play TD pass to keep them in the game.
“Our defense again played great,” Fox said. “Again, if we punch it in a couple of those times, this is a different game. Coach (Pat) Herron has done a tremendous job all year with our defense and this game was the same way.
“We just had to put the ball in the end zone when we had chances and weren’t able to,” he added.
Fox reflected on what his first season was like. The Truckers stormed out to a 7-1 start, only to lose the final two games of the regular season which cost them the SBC Lake Division championship.
But Norwalk responded in November with blowout wins over Bowling Green (42-14) and Rocky River (56-7) before beating Sandusky (20-17) in the Region 10 championship game.
Norwalk won the Class AA state championship in 1974, but the playoff format was just the state semifinals and title game. This season, the three wins are the most in program history, which reaching the final four round for the first time in 44 years.
“They played for each other and the program, and we’re better for it,” Fox said of his team. “When we can step away, we will be proud not only in making the state semifinals, but in showing we deserved to be as well.”