First-year Norwalk coach Todd Fox said he’d be foolish not to put the football in the hands of several skilled position players this season.
Behind a balanced attack, the Truckers stunned visiting Mansfield Senior by scoring the first 35 points of the game in a 42-21 victory Friday night at Whitney Field in the season opener.
Senior star running back Trevon Raymore ran 26 times for 252 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Garrett Chapin was 9-of-12 passing for 196 yards and 2 TDs to pace the offense.
Meanwhile, the defense held firm for the better part of three quarters in the dominant victory over the Tygers — who returned 17-of-22 starters from an 8-3 league champion and playoff team in 2017.
“Our line came out strong — there were some big holes for me,” Raymore said. “That first drive, we took it right down the field and had a nice run the first play. We had read a lot of comments during the week how we might be overmatched against them.
“We all felt like we had something to prove,” he added. “We picked it up, tonight for sure.”
Norwalk punted just one time in the first half, essentially moving the ball at will on a stunned Tyger defense.
The Truckers went 52 yards in eight plays in just under three minutes to open the game. Raymore carried six times, while Chapin found Ryan Sowders for a pair of passes that netted 36 yards.
Raymore punched it in from six yards, and the first of six Garrison Smith extra points gave the Truckers a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Truckers needed just five plays to cover 74 yards. Raymore had back-to-back runs for 41 and 32 yards — setting up a 1-yard TD run by Alec Maloney for a 14-0 lead at the 3:03 mark of the first.
After yet another defensive stop, this time the Truckers were pinned back at their own 6-yard line. However, on third-and-11 from the 21 — Chapin connected with senior Kaden Livingston for a 70-yard gain to the Mansfield 9. Tche Leroux covered the nine yards on the very next play — and the Truckers were off and rolling with a 21-0 lead with 9:44 left in the first half.
“We did a lot of preparing, and I knew with my receivers, if I threw the ball to them, they would be able to go up and get it,” Chapin said. “And Trevon, he’s just one of a kind. He told me he needs the ball, and that’s fine by me.”
The Truckers stopped the Tyger offense cold once again, and turned in a quick 4-play, 54-yard scoring drive.
Chapin found Livingston for 24 yards on the first play, then on third-and-6 at the Mansfield 20 — Ehtan Phillips caught the ball near the Mansfield sideline. He was able to get to the corner and outrun the Tyger defense for the TD and a 28-0 lead with 5:50 left in the first half.
“I can’t say enough about the whole team,” Fox said. “With that kind of output offensively and even defensively. They answered the bell tonight, and it’s great to see. Going in, we were a little nervous how we would see through it.
“A lot of people didn’t give us a shot, we’re kind of a young team,” he added. “But we challenged them to see what their goals and team culture was going to be — and they rang the bell. I can’t say enough for every single kid tonight.”
To start the second half, Raymore broke free for a 70-yard rush on the second play of the third quarter. He carried four times for 88 yards on the drive, the last a 1-yard TD run for a 35-0 lead with 10:09 left in the quarter.
But the Tygers did make things interesting for a bit.
Alamar Grose returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to get Mansfield on the board. The Tygers then got a defensive stand, and put together an 8-play, 83-yard scoring drive.
Each team then traded possessions, but the Tygers scored again with a 65-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Angelo Grose scored on a three-yard keeper with 7:32 left, and the Tygers were suddenly within 35-21 and had all three timeouts.
But the Truckers turned back to Raymore and his offensive line to settle things down.
Fox called Raymore’s number five straight times on the ensuing drive, and the senior gained 45 yards. Two plays later, Chapin threw the ball up to the left corner of the end zone, where senior Brandon Haraway made an impressive leaping catch for the game-sealing TD with 3:45 left.
“We were disappointed we lost some focus there in the third quarter and didn’t close it out,” Fox said. “But it was a learning lesson in that we were able to stop the bleeding and regroup and put the game away.
“Everything is a learning lesson for these kids,” he added. “We have a lot of room for improvement, but it’s a great way to start with a win in Week 1.”
Chapin spread his nine completed passes around to five different receivers. Livingston had the two catches for 94 yards, while Sowders had two for 36 yards, and Phillips had two catches for 26 yards. Haraway (21 yards) and Maloney (20 yards) each had one catch.
The Truckers face another playoff team from 2017 next week when they travel to Creston and face Division VI Norwayne.