NORWICH – With under a minute to play and Owego driving for a go-ahead score, Norwich coach John Pluta said, “I’m too old for this.” A few minutes later, Pluta updated that statement:
“I feel a lot younger than I did 10 minutes ago.”
Thoroughly outplayed by Owego for 2 1/2 quarters, Norwich rallied for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to defeat the visiting club, 18-14 Friday night.
Tim Clark’s fourth-and-11 pass connection to tight end David Carson gave Norwich its one and only lead of the game. Jake Fazio’s sack of Owego quarterback Nick Koroluck ended the contest as the Tornado stormed the field.
One would have thought it was a playoff game instead of opening night, and the intensity on both sides of the ball exemplified it. “Owego will definitely be in the (playoff) hunt,” Pluta said. “They are a tough team.”
So tough, the Indians did their best version of Norwich’s ball-control offense.
Norwich senior Tyler Slater boomed a punt 60 yards inside the Owego one about midway through the first quarter. After running three plays and out, Norwich did not see the ball again the rest of the quarter.
In efficient fashion, Owego mixed some running plays with an accurate short passing game. Koroluck dinked and dunked finding seams in the Norwich defense, and time and again executed clutch third-down conversions in uncanny fashion.
With the first quarter time exhausted, Owego capped a 16-play, 99-yard drive on another third-and-long early in the second. Koroluck connected with Harley Edwards from 12 yards out making it 6-0.
“I thought we did a good job on defense stopping their running game,” Pluta said. “We wanted to take away their deep passing game, and they did get us on one of them, but we let them have the underneath stuff.”
Norwich wasted no time tying the game. Senior Tyler Slater, a starting wideout for two seasons, scored on a 57-yard burst up the middle on his first-ever varsity carry. Slater led Norwich with 105 yards on the ground.
Owego capitalized on Norwich’s only real mistake of the game early in the third period. Slater, back to punt around the Norwich 15, was unable to handle the snap, and was dropped at the 16.
Unlike the expansive real estate it needed to cover for its first score, Owego pounced on the golden opportunity in three plays. Parker Evans went off tackle from three yards, and Owego regained the lead.
At that point, a few Norwich heads dipped in disappointment, something Pluta noticed as well, and he made a plea for the team to regroup. “They had to make a choice (as a team) and continue to play hard,” Pluta said. “I’m awfully proud of the way they responded.”
The response came not only from the offense, but the defense as well. Norwich Owego to punt for the first time after perhaps the most unique playsof the game. Koroluck, who finished with 100 yards through the air, flicked a pass that was deflected back into his own hands for a four-yard loss. The completion to himself was the last successful pass attempt by the Owego signal-caller.
Norwich started its comeback at its own 13 and moved just eight yards on three plays. Time for a punt? Not in this case. “It was not a high percentage play,” Pluta said of his call to go for a fourth-and-two at his own 21. “It’s one of those gut instinct calls. If we didn’t get it, I thought they may stick another (TD) in there and it might have been the end for us. We pounded it up in there and got the yardage with a little to spare.”
Norwich shed the multiple formations that led to inconsistency earlier in the game, and churned out steady chunks of yardage. Clark’s first TD strike found Andrew Austin, who leaped in the back of the end zone to pull down the 25-yard circus grab. A missed two-point try left the Tornado a deuce short with just over 10 minutes left.
Owego showed the same optimism with its fourth-down calls, and its proficiency finally took a hit at midfield. Koroluck mishandled a fourth-and-one snap allowing the NHS defense to hold.
Norwich’s Mike Moon converted a key fourth-and-one at the 40 on the next possession, and Paddy Law’s 30-yard burst to the Owego eight set up the final score. On fourth-and-goal, Clark spun and fired to Carson, who found a nook in the pass coverage for his first varsity TD.
Clark’s two TD passes were his first as a varsity player, Carson’s was his first on varsity as was the aforementioned Slater six-pointer. “They all did a great job, and they’re only going to get better,” Pluta said.
Score by quarters
Owego 0 6 8 0–14..