For the first time in over a month, the Norwalk football team was staring down a double-digit deficit in Friday’s Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division game at Bellevue.
The Redmen had jumped on the Truckers’ early mistakes for a 14-0 lead exactly eight minutes into the game.
“That’s where you separate yourself,” Norwalk junior quarterback Garrett Chapin said. “What you’re response is and how you bounce back says a lot about what type of team you have — and we showed that tonight.”
Led by the passing game of Chapin and receivers Ryan Sowders and Ethan Phillips, the Truckers certainly had an answer.
Norwalk scored 24 points over the final 16 minutes of the first half, and outscored the Redmen 45-7 after the early deficit in the 45-21 victory.
The Truckers improved to 5-1 overall (1-0 Lake) while the Redmen fell to 4-2 (0-1).
Chapin finished the game 21-of-29 passing with 231 yards and four touchdowns. Over the last three games, Chapin is 40-of-50 passing for 578 yards and 6 TDs.
Sowders caught 10 passes for 147 yards and 2 TDs in Friday’s win, and had a third TD just miss when he had a 29-yard catch ruled a touchback because it slipped out of his hands into the end zone.
“The line is giving me a lot of time, and we’re just throwing and catching the ball well,” Chapin said. “Shout out to the flight squad for getting open and doing their thing. We just want to keep getting better every day. That is the plan and we feel like that’s what we’ve done each week.”
After Bellevue got Norwalk off the field in three plays to start the game, the Redmen got the ball at the Norwalk 42-yard line after a catch interference penalty on the ensuing punt return.
Six plays later, Justin Mayes scored on a 17-yard run. Though the kick was wide right, Bellevue was up 6-0 at the 8:32 mark of the first.
Four plays later, a fake punt attempt by the Truckers was incomplete at the Bellevue 35. The Redmen were then faced with a fourth-and-6 at the Norwalk 17, and QB Keegan Ray connected with a wide open Derek Raifsnider for a TD pass.
Ray then found Jack Fitzgerald open on the try for two points to put the Redmen up 14-0 with four minutes left in the opening quarter.
From there, the Truckers quickly settled in.
A long kick return by Ethan Phillips put Norwalk at the Bellevue 32. Five plays later, Chapin and Phillips connected on an 11-yard TD pass with 1:32 left in the opening quarter, and the first of six Garrison Smith extra points made it a 14-7 game.
Norwalk was poised to tie it up on the ensuing possession, but Sowders 29-yard catch turned into the fumble out of the back of the end zone as he reached to cross the goal line.
After a quick defensive stop, Norwalk moved 45 yards in six plays, with Evan Stumpf scoring on a 5-yard run to tie it at 14 with 7:50 left in the half.
Sowders got the Norwalk offense back on the field with an interception, which set up a 25-yard field goal by Smith with 2:32 left in the half.
But the feather in the cap of the offense came with 18 seconds left in the half. With no timeouts, the Truckers had it fourth-and-11 at the Bellevue 31. Chapin then kept the play alive and connected with Sowders for 29 yards down to the Bellevue 12.
The Norwalk offense then sprinted to the line of scrimmage. With the clock inside of seven seconds, rather than spike it for a short Smith field goal attempt, Chapin had another pass play — and found Sowders wide open for the over-the-shoulder catch and 12-yard TD pass with no time on the first half clock.
Suddenly, the 14-0 deficit was a 24-14 halftime lead.
“That was a great momentum builder for us,” Norwalk coach Todd Fox said. “We called some things and they worked out, but Garrett had a phenomenal night and made things happen.”
Bellevue put together an impressive 13-play, 80-yard drive to begin the second half and get back in the game. Backup QB Deegan Horn, in for the injured Ray, led the Redmen down the field and threw a 14-yard TD pass to Caleb Marshall at the 6:38 mark of the third. Hunter Nottke’s PAT made the deficit 24-21.
Quick to answer, the Truckers moved 63 yards in nine plays, with Chapin finding Stumpf in the flats for a 12-yard TD pass on third-and-goal. That put Norwalk up 31-21 with 3:29 left in the third.
Faced with a fourth-and-2 at the Norwalk 39 on the ensuing drive, linebacker Andrew Mozina snared a Horn pass and was in the clear on a 64-yard interception return for another score. That made it a 38-21 lead at the 1:51 mark of the third.
The final score of the game was set up when Alec Maloney intercepted a Horn pass on the first play of the fourth quarter at the Bellevue 20.
The very next play, Chapin dropped back and fired to the right corner, where Sowders caught the ball in front of a defender at the 1 and was tackled in the end zone for the 20-yard TD catch with 11:43 left.
“We’re very proud of the way we responded,” Fox said. “I told the kids that at halftime, and I repeated that to them just after the game again. They didn’t panic, things started rolling a little bit and by the end of the first half — we had gotten ourselves back going with a little swagger.
“But credit to Bellevue, they also responded when they had some adversity,” he added. “But overall in this game, a lot of kids walked off the field tonight learning about life and how to respond to tough situations.”
Stumpf ran 25 times for 107 yards and a TD, and also caught two passes for 16 yards and another score. Phillips added six catches for 56 yards and a TD.
Short-handed Bellevue lost both Ray and Mayes to injuries during the second quarter, and neither returned.
Still, Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti saw his team claw back to within three (24-21) midway through the third quarter.
“We felt good about the game plan and had a great start,” Nasonti said. “The kids played hard and I’m proud of them. But Norwalk got a couple short fields, some turnovers and a long punt and kick return … that got them going a bit.
“Norwalk did a great job executing. They didn’t do a great job running the ball on us, but Chapin and their perimeter game was solid,” he added. “They made some catches and did a nice job.”
Horn ran 22 times for 56 yards for the Redmen and threw for 78 yards on 7-of-12 attempts and a TD. Marshall caught three passes for 54 yards.
“We told them to take it one play at a time and don’t look at the scoreboard,” Nasonti said. “A lot of young kids were in there. I know they’re disappointed, but we still have a lot to play for and obviously we feel good about the nucleus of our team. We’ll live to fight another day.”
Norwalk entertains Sandusky (5-1, 1-0) next week while the Redmen travel to Perkins (3-3, 0-1).
Norwalk 7 17 14 7 — 45
Bellevue 14 0 7 0 — 21
BEL — Justin Mayes 17 run (kick failed)
BEL — Derek Raifsnider 17 pass from Keegan Ray (Jack Fitzgerald pass from Ray)
NOR — Ethan Phillips 11 pass from Garrett Chapin (Garrison Smith kick)
NOR — Evan Stumpf 5 run (Smith kick)
NOR — Smith 25 field goal
NOR — Ryan Sowders 12 pass from Chapin (Smith kick)
BEL — Caleb Marshall 14 pass from xxx Horn (Hunter Nottke kick)
NOR — Stumpf 12 pass from Chapin (Smith kick)
NOR — Sowders 20 pass from Chapin (Smith kick)