NORWALK — This year’s Norwalk-McMahon football contest had everything a fan could ask for in an annual rivalry game.
It had exciting and improbable plays, strong defensive stands, penalties galore and emotions running high from both sides.
When the smoke cleared, however, Norwalk held off a late McMahon rally to claim its fifth straight win in the series 35-27, on Friday afternoon in front of a less-than-capacity crowd at Testa Field.
“It was a hard-fought game by both teams,” said NHS head coach Sean Ireland, whose squad improved to 5-5 with the victory. “I give credit to McMahon. We went up pretty quick on them and they could’ve easily packed it in but they kept fighting.”
Game MVP Jakari Walker found the end zone twice for the Bears and QB Kyle Gordon threw four TD passes in the win.
Norwalk took control of the game early. On their second play from scrimmage, Bears QB Kyle Gordon found Khalil Eason on a 36-yard score just 20 seconds into the contest.
Norwalk forced a McMahon punt and proceeded to go on a nine-play, 93-yard scoring push capped by a jump pass from Gordon to senior Jakai Elliott from 5 yards out for a 14-0 lead with 11:55 on the clock in the second quarter.
The Senators got on track on their next possession, going 58 yards in six plays, with Jermayne Daniel scoring from 11 yards out. The extra point failed but McMahon cut the lead to 14-6 (9:33 left in the second).
McMahon’s game MVP, Michael Macari, racked up 26 yards during the drive.
It didn’t take long for the Bears to answer with Walker receiving the next handoff and scampering 47 yards down the right sideline to paydirt. The extra point gave Norwalk a 21-6 lead with 9:15 remaining in the half.
“Jakari is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball,” Ireland said. “He’s very patient, which makes him great. Every time we answered (a McMahon touchdown), we answered quickly.”
The Senators’ next possession featured some controversy with a McMahon player being ejected for pushing a player after the play was over. They were hit with 45 yards of personal-foul penalties, including one assessed to the coaches on the sideline.
McMahon coach Jeff Queiroga said he would’ve liked for one of his best players to receive a warning before receiving an ejection.
“I have to be better at teaching them not to retaliate but I don’t think it warranted him getting kicked out of the game,” the first-year coach said. “This is a big game for our boys but it’s not the reason why we lost. We just came up short.”
Another personal-foul penalty by the McMahon defense set the Bears up for another score. Gordon found Jamal Boyd for a 25-yard touchdown to put Norwalk ahead 28-6 with 4:40 left in the half.
That score likely motivated the Senators and they marched down the field on their next possession. Six plays, including a personal-foul penalty by Norwalk, moved McMahon down to the Bears 1 in the final minute. Three plays from the 1 netted zero yards as the Norwalk defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs with 4.8 on the clock.
“That was great,” Ireland said. “We have a lot of confidence in our defense. That gave us all the momentum going into halftime.”
Queiroga praised his defense for stepping up in the second half, which spurred the Senators’ comeback. They scored on their second possession of the half when Macari hit paydirt from 9 yards out and Tsai Zoe converted the 2-point pass from QB Patrick Coulter to make the score 28-14 (2:50 left in the third quarter).
McMahon nearly recovered the ensuing onside kick but the Bears ended up with the ball. Gordon found Walker on a 50-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline for a 35-14 lead with 2:40 remaining in the third.
“I was trying to make plays when I get the ball and make sure our team got the win,” Walker said. “It was a screen pass (on the touchdown) and I saw all the open space. It was all the O-line that made it possible.”
McMahon scored right before the start of the fourth quarter on a fumble recovery by Malik Goethe following a run by Zoe (31.6). The Senators added another touchdown and the drive was aided by a personal-foul penalty by Norwalk that led to pushing and shoving between the teams close to the McMahon bench.
A touchdown catch by Macari from Coulter pulled the Senators within eight (3:49) but the Bears were able to run out the clock thereafter.
“It feels great,” Ireland said. “We never won four in a row and now we’ve won five. We got a lot of kids coming back so we should be good for the future.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jakari Walker, Norwalk. The junior running back came up big for his team with two TDs, one rushing and another receiving, including the game-winning score.
Kyle Gordon, Norwalk. The junior QB threw four TDs in leading the Bears to victory.
SOLID IN DEFEAT
Michael Macari, McMahon. The senior running back and captain helped pull the Senators back in the game with two second-half touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
The Senators still hold a 33-24-1 lead in the all-time series with the Bears, including a 22-18 edge for the Sam Testa Memorial Trophy, given to the winner of the annual contest, which was first presented in 1979. Norwalk has won five straight and nine of the last 12.
“It’s an intra-city rivalry and these kids want bragging rights,” Queiroga said. “It’s a little chippy and I wish I had been warned that my player was close to being ejected because I would’ve talked to him.”
“We came out aggressive and we knew we had to stay aggressive,” Gordon said.
“We came out flat in the beginning but left our hearts on the field in the second half,” Macari said.
“It’s an honor (to have never lost to McMahon) and I want to give a shoutout to all my teammates,” senior Jakai Elliott said. “It’s a team win.”
“It happens,” Ireland said of the chippiness. “When a team is frustrated their emotions tend to boil over and that’s all I think it was. They hate each other for three hours of the game and then afterwards they love each other.”
“The only negative thing was that this game wasn’t played yesterday (on Thanksgiving),” Ireland said. “Unfortunately for these kids, they weren’t able to play in front of a huge crowd. It was a decision not in our hands.”
NORWALK 35, McMAHON 27
McMAHON 0 6 14 7—27
NORWALK 7 21 7 0 —35
N—Khalil Eason 36 pass from Kyle Gordon (Vasilios Kiriazidis kick)
N—Jakai Elliott 8 pass from Gordon (Kiriazidis kick)
M—Jermayne Daniel 11 run (kick failed)
N—Jakari Walker 47 run (Kiriazidis kick)
N—Jamal Boyd 25 pass from Gordon (Kiriazidis kick)
M—Michael Macari 9 run (Tsai Zoe pass from Patrick Coulter)
N—Walker 50 pass from Gordon (Kiriazidis kick)
M—Malik Goethe 14 fumble return (pass failed)
M—Macari 11 pass from Coulter (Jeff Cocchia kick)
Records: Norwalk 5-5, McMahon 2-8.