For a second straight season, the Norwalk football team will meet Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division foe Sandusky in the Division III state playoffs.
One year after meeting in a regional championship game at Bellevue, the Truckers (9-2) and Blue Streaks (8-3) will meet again at First National Bank Field at the Bellevue Athletic Facility — but this time in a second-round matchup at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Truckers — ranked No. 12 in the final Associated Press state poll — won the regular season meeting, 37-20, on Oct. 11 in Norwalk. They also won both meetings last season, 52-35 and 20-17.
“It’s a regional semifinal and anything goes,” Norwalk coach Todd Fox said. “The SBC Lake will again carry on after this week.”
Like last season, things have changed in the five weeks since the two teams met. But one thing that hasn’t changed is where it starts and stops with the Blue Streaks: senior running back Terion Stewart.
The Bowling Green State University commit enters the game with 1,888 yards and 27 touchdowns, which included rushing 26 times for 275 yards and 2 TDs in last week’s 20-14 win in a first-round game at Medina Buckeye.
In the three games against Norwalk over the past two seasons, Stewart has ran for 382 yards and 7 TDs. That includes 80 yards and two scores on 22 attempts in the matchup last month.
“What we’ll see from them is the same thing they will see from us, which is I think they are playing better in different phases of the game,” Fox said of Sandusky. “Obviously Terion is Terion, just a great player. But (Michael) Franklin at quarterback has evolved and his more acclimated.”
Franklin started the season as the third quarterback for Sandusky, but injuries to Shonsai Aaron and JJ Henry put him into the starting lineup in the game at Norwalk in Week 7. He threw a 37-yard TD pass to Noah Caston in last week’s win.
“When we played them, he had not been the quarterback long, but now he’s gotten more games under him and has developed more,” Fox said of Franklin.
Caston has 29 catches for 472 yards and 4 TDs for the Streaks, while Franklin is 38-of-76 passing for 586 yards and 3 TDs. Sandusky averages 32.6 points and 318.6 yards per game on offense.
Though Sandusky allowed 385 yards of offense — including 355 on the ground — in the win over Buckeye last week, it also held the Bucks to just the two scores. The Streaks allow 22.8 points and 342.2 yards per game, with Vinny D’Amico (93 tackles through 10 games) and Rashon Redding (81 tackles, 2 sacks) leading the way.
“They just fly to the ball,” Fox said. “They know how to do that well, and their secondary — which is something we learned from them last time — has some really good young guys who have developed back there. Watching them on film, they’ve continued to develop.
“But they are sound, well-coached up front and into the box, and in general just fly to the ball really well.”
Meanwhile, Fox’s team is coming off a strong defensive performance that has allowed the Truckers to advance to the second round in consecutive seasons — a program first.
Facing a potent Cleveland Glenville offense that was averaging nearly 33 points per game, Norwalk kept the visiting Tarblooders out of the end zone over the 48 minutes of action — and to 241 yards total. Glenville was inside the Norwalk 40 just once, and was unable to score from first-and-goal at the Norwalk 7 in the second half.
“We played fantastic on defense,” Fox said. “It’s probably one of those games where you walked off the field feeling like we played to our potential. We can still get better, but I think we played to our potential and we’re going to need to continue that week by week. You have to play at that level at this point or you’re done. We’re ready to try that again and hopefully it shows up on Friday.”
On offense, the Truckers scored on fourth-and-goal as time expired to eclipse 20 points. They were held to 14 points in a loss to Columbian in Week 10 on Nov. 1. Norwalk also had a field goal attempt blocked and an extra point attempt that never got started, and fumbled inside the Glenville 10 and were sacked in the end zone for a safety.
“I thought we let down the week before up front,” Fox said of the loss to Columbian. “Last week we did a nice job of picking up blitzes and started exploiting some things. We had some things we didn’t have to show last week because we were able to exploit other areas, and that’s again something you have to be able to do this time of the year.
“The offense is getting better, but I do think we were out of sync there for a week,” he added. “But in the playoffs, you just have to play sound. We had a couple turnovers last week, but other pieces came to the top like Jake Sommers (35 yards, TD) running the ball. We’ll be OK and continue to improve.”
Fox was asked if seeing Glenville QB William Anglen — an NCAA Div. I recruit at safety — helps in the preparation for Stewart and the Streaks this week. Anglen ran 11 times for 69 yards.
“The last two weeks we’ve played some fast, good teams,” he said. “It helps our defense continue to evaluate what they need to do, and helps on their angles and pursuing the ball. It obviously helps, but Terion is his own player. He is special in his own right, and we have to go after him — again.”
Norwalk team stats
— Yards for: 4,193 (381.1)
— Points for: 388 (35.3)
— Points allowed: 180 (16.3)
— Yards allowed: 2,639 (239.9)
— Garrett Chapin: 122-of-190, 1,533 yards, 9 TDs
— Evan Stumpf: 244 att., 2,081 yards, 23 TDs
— Ryan Sowders: 42 catches, 674 yards, 5 TDs
— Alec Maloney: 126 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions
— Josh Neuberger: 100 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions