NORWALK — Two years ago, Danbury running back Malik Thomas considered himself a soccer player.
When a friend of his joked that at 6 feet tall and 200-plus pounds he was too big for soccer, Thomas considered another sport — or more specifically, another kind of football.
On Friday night at Testa Field, Thomas showed he was more than built for football as he piled up more than 250 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns to lead the Hatters to a 35-21 win over host Norwalk.
Danbury improved to 4-3 with the win while Norwalk slipped to 3-4.
Thomas only carried the ball 12 times for 253 yards and scored on runs of 32, 69 and 80 yards.
“Tonight was a great night for me,” said Thomas, who has been dealing with a thigh contusion at practice all week. “I have to give thanks to my coaching staff and my teammates. I just want to thank everybody.”
The Hatters trailed 7-6 at the half, but took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and marched 68 yards on 12 plays before Thomas went on an end sweep for a 15-yard touchdown to give the Hatters a 14-7 lead.
Norwalk had Danbury backed up twice with a third-and-22 (Norwalk pass interference) and a third-and-21 (hands to the face) but the Bears made some foolish penalties to help the Hatters keep the game alive.
“How many times did we have third-and-20, or third-and-28 or third and whatever?” Norwalk coach Sean Ireland asked. “Yes, Danbury beat us, but we gave them a lot. It’s very frustrating.”
Norwalk only got one first down on its next-to-last possessions, bot of which ended in punts.
On a Danbury first down, though, Norwalk’s Aaron Epps scooped up a Danbury fumble and rumbled 15 yards into the end zone to tie the game.
Right away, Thomas answered witih a 69-yard scoring run to make it 21-14.
VIDEO – A look back at ALL THREE Touchdown runs from Malik Thomas (15, 69 and 80-yards) @MalikTh10337689 rushes for 253-yds and Danbury Hatters spoil "Senior Day" for Norwalk Bears football with a 35-to-21 win on Friday night October 26, 2018 @CoachTieri @ChipSalvestrini pic.twitter.com/Y79RlRW4B8
— Tez TV (@ETezTV) October 27, 2018
On second down of Norwalk’s next possession, Danbury’s defense stepped up with Raymond Pinto recovering a fumble and running it back 18 yards for a score.
Those two touchdowns — coming just 24 seconds apart — increased the Hatters’ lead to 28-14.
“I think we have some great players,” Thomas said. “Everybody was calm after the first half and we knew the situation we were in. We just had to do everything in our power and we played to our abilities and got the win.”
Thomas capped off his night with an 80-yard touchdown run with 8:58 left to play in the game.
Jack Pompea added 114 yards rushing to the cause, as well.
Norwalk had a chance to take control of the game in the first half, but left to two touchdowns off the board despite twice coming within 36 inches of a touchdown.
On Norwalk’s first drive of the game, the Bears moved the ball 86 yards until Danbury’s Jude Umunakwe picked off Norwalk quarterback Kyle Gordon on the 1-yard line.
Umunakwe returned the pick 68 yards to the Norwalk 31, helping to set up the Hatters’ first score (a a 1-yard dive by fullback DJ Donovan) and a 6-0 lead.
Later in the half, the Bears ripped off 60 yards in five plays, but coughed up the ball at the Danbury 1 to end the drive.
“It could have been 21-6,” Ireland said. “There were plays to be made.”
In the second half, though, it was Danbury making the plays, as the Hatters piled up 366 of their 498 total yards.
A PAINFUL LOSS
While the turnovers hurt, as did more than 10 penalties for more than 100 yards, the Bears were also physically beat up in the game.
Two players, in fact, went to the hospital during the game.
Jakari Walker — who scored Norwalk’s first touchdown for a 7-6 lead — was sent to the hospital after suffering a concussion on a horse-collar tackle; Davis Hernandez was stretched off the field and sent to the hospital via ambulance with a back injury; sophomore linebacker Izayah Valentine had to be helped off the field with a shin injury; and Lorenzo DelFino left the game with a knee injury.
None of the players returned.
“We got beat up,” Ireland said.
DANBURY 35, NORWALK 21
DANBURY 6 0 22 7—35
NORWALK 7 0 7 7—21
D—DJ Donovan 1 run (kick blocked)
N—Jakari Walker 1 run (Vasilios Kiriazidis kick)
D—Malik Thomas 15 run (Malachi Hopkins pass to Sylvanus Thompson)
N—Aaron Epps 15 fumble return (Kiriazidis kick)
D—Thomas 69 run (Lucas Amaral kick)
D—Raymond Pinto 18 fumble recovery (Jessica Resendes kick)
N—Kyle Gordon 3 run (Kiriazidis kick)
D—Thomas 80 run (Amaral kick)