Norland’s quest to defend its state championship this season following the graduation of several key players including Duke Johnson has had its share of rough patches.
And yet, with two games left in the regular season, Norland finds itself in a position similar to where it has been the past three years.
Behind a stingy defense that helped it overcome numerous penalties and early offensive futility, the Vikings put themselves in position to win District 16-5A for the third consecutive season following a 22-3 victory over Jackson on Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium.
Norland (6-2, 1-0) only needs a victory over Key West in two weeks to secure the district crown. The Vikings have a bye next week. Jackson (5-3, 1-1) would clinch the district’s runner-up playoff berth if Norland defeats Key West.
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“We are not the team from last year because that team could have beaten any team in the nation,” Norland coach Daryle Heidelburg said. “This squad this year is more of a grind-it-out team, and they are learning to play together. We need wins like this to get through the growing pains.”
The Vikings scored all 22 points in the second half following a first half in which both teams turned the ball over twice and the Generals only mustered a 23-yard field goal by Franklin Bonilla.
The turning point came on special teams when Jackson muffed a punt and Norland recovered at the Generals’ 45-yard line. Following successive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, Norland had possession at Jackson’s 14-yard line.
Four plays later, LaKeith Stafford scored from 2 yards out — the first of his two touchdown runs — to give Norland the lead for good.
The Vikings’ defense kept Jackson in check for nearly the entire game, holding quarterback Quinton Flowers to 3 of 9 completions for only 29 yards. Jerimiah Dinson and William Townsend each intercepted Flowers as well.
Flowers left the game in the fourth quarter after falling awkwardly on a tackle by Norland defensive end Paul James. Flowers did not return, but Jackson coaches said it was a precautionary move and that they expected Flowers to return for next week’s game against Killian on Thursday.
James, Treyvon Williams and Roland Collins kept constant pressure up front on Flowers and held Jackson to 52 rushing yards.
“Those are probably the ugliest 22 points we’ve ever scored, but it was enough,” Heidelburg said. “Injuries have killed us. It’s good we have our bye week next week.”