NORWALK — A penalty-filled battle that had already stretched nerves and removed flow from an important early-season game boiled over into controversy Friday night at Norwalk High School.
Trinity Catholic, looking to complete a 17-play drive and overcome a 20-16 deficit, faced 4th and 4 from the Bears’ 15 with 1:22 remaining. Crusaders quarterback Anthony Lombardi lofted a pass into the left corner of the end zone, where his receiver, Johnny Somers, was surrounded by three defenders.
Somers came down with the ball and at some point bobbled it. The official in front of the play first signaled a touchdown, then changed his call to an incompletion. A long conference ensued, the play was ruled a score and the Crusaders held on for an emotional 22-20 victory.
“It was nice we were able to put that drive together like that,” said Donny Panapada, who said before the game that losing was not an option, as his team evened its record at 1-1. “It never should have come to that.”
The penalties on Ireland were the 24th and 25th of the game, for a total of 248 yards. Both sides were irritated by the conferences that followed nearly every call, which further robbed the game of any flow.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ireland said. “The kid dropped the ball, the ball’s rolling around the damn track. They said it was an incomplete pass. It’s unbelievable.”
The climax also took away from some exceptional performances by both teams. JonMichael Bivona, in his first start for the Crusaders, rushed for 184 yards. Lombardi completed 11 of 18 passes for 146 yards and two scores. The first went to his star receiver, Izaiah Sanders, a transfer from Norwalk, who outleaped two defenders in the right corner of the end zone.
Sanders’ score, on Trinity’s opening possession, gave it an 8-7 lead. It followed a touchdown by Norwalk to start the game, a two-yard run by Dakari Eason.
What appeared to be an upcoming shootout soon bogged down as the teams traded scores. Brendan Brown’s 24 -yard catch from quarterback Krishtjan Frrokaj put Norwalk back in front at the half 14-8.
Trinity answered back with a 69-yard drive to start the second half, set up by Bivona’s 58-yard run on the first play. Lombardi finished it with a 2-yard sneak to make the score 16-14.
“We came out and ran a little hurry-up in the first quarter but we didn’t want to tire the kids out,” Panapada said. “We thought we could pound them a little bit. The idea was to take yards.”
Norwalk took its final lead on Joey Laracca’s 1-yard run with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
“The ending was terrible but there were positives all around,” Ireland said. “We fought tooth and nail with a very good football team.”
“We held a high-power offense to 22, no, 22 minus 6,” Ireland said. “They didn’t score that last touchdown.”