“I could tell they were coming back to my side,” Sommers said.
The Norwalk junior defensive back was being picked on throughout Friday’s Division III regional championship game vs. Sandusky.
But the state placer in pole vault is going to be talked about in the Maple City for a long time.
Sommers’ stumbling interception at the Norwalk 35-yard line with 1:13 left sealed a thrilling 20-17 win over the Blue Streaks at Bellevue Athletic Field.
“I saw the ball coming and I didn’t think he overthrew it at all,” Sommers said of Shonsai Aaron’s pass. “I think it was actually a little short and I had to come back to it and I started stumbling but was able to hang onto it. I bobbled it, but squeezed it as tight as I could.”
The Truckers (10-3) are headed to the state semifinals for the second time in program history and the first time since 1974. Norwalk will face Associated Press poll champion Kettering Archbishop Alter (12-1) at 7 p.m. next Friday at Wapakoneta.
Norwalk head coach Todd Fox said there wasn’t a better script than for Sommers to come up with the game-clinching play.
“Our defense, I can’t say enough about those guys,” Fox said. “But Jake knows they pick at him. He’s a phenomenal athlete, and we had been talking to him for weeks, ‘Believe you are best athlete out there.’
“Jake needed that — and he deserved that,” Fox added.
Norwalk trailed 14-10 at halftime, and an interception by Sandusky’s Tevin Stewart from quarterback Garrett Chapin gave the Streaks (8-5) the ball at their own 25 with 7:11 left in the third quarter.
But just two plays later, Sandusky standout running back Terion Stewart coughed up the football for a second time. Junior linebacker Alec Maloney was there to recover for Norwalk at the Sandusky 37.
It took eight plays and a fourth-down conversion, but Maloney bulled over five Blue Streaks on his way to a 6-yard touchdown run, and Garrison Smith’s PAT gave the Truckers a 17-14 lead at the 3:38 mark of the third. Kaden Livingston had a key 20-yard catch on the drive.
Sandusky then worked its way down the field, and advanced down to the Norwalk 10 for first-and-goal. However, penalties and the Norwalk defense forced the Streaks to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Max Corso with one second left in the third quarter to tie the game at 17.
The Truckers grabbed the lead right back to start the final 12 minutes.
A steady dose of Trevon Raymore and Maloney set up a Chapin-to-Livingston pass that was on the money for a 34-yard gain to the Sandusky 12. Maloney picked up six yards to the 6 — but back-to-back fumbles forced the Truckers into a 29-yard field goal attempt by Smith.
The sophomore kicker added his second field goal of the game with ease, giving Norwalk a 20-17 lead with 9:19 left in the game.
Sandusky proceeded to drive to the Norwalk 24, where it was faced with a fourth-and-8 with just under five minutes to go. Sandusky coach Mike Franklin initially considered another Corso field goal attempt, but opted to go for it.
An Aaron pass was caught in the back of the end zone, though his receiver was out of bounds. The Blue Streaks were whistled for holding on the play, regardless.
But the Truckers quickly went three-and-out, giving Sandusky another shot from its own 44 with 4:32 left. Faced with a fourth-and-6 from its own 48, Franklin had Sandusky’s Eian Sherman try a fake punt to get the first down.
He was tripped up by Maloney for just a 2-yard gain, giving the ball back to the Truckers with 2:55 left.
However, Norwalk again couldn’t close out the deal on offense. Faced with a fourth-and-4 from the Sandusky 44 — Fox elected for Chapin to go for the first down. But he was two yards short, giving the Streaks another shot from their 42 with 1:36 left.
After an incomplete pass by Aaron, Sommers then sealed the game with his interception.
“I was just trying to breathe it in,” Sommers said of his emotions. “The whole city is on your back with the stands filled, this is awesome. Amazing. We all kissed the trophy, so that’s awesome.”
Sandusky took the opening kickoff and took advantage of a couple defensive penalties against the Truckers. Aaron connected with Terrence Reed for an 11-yard pass with 6:36 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
The Truckers responded with a lengthy 15-play, 70-yard scoring drive that lasted 6:05. That included two third-down and one fourth-down conversion, with Brandon Haraway catching four passes on the drive.
The scoring drive ended with Haraway pancaking a defender as Trevon Raymore went to the left side for a 7-yard run. Smith’s PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
Norwalk then earned another three-and-out on defense near midfield. This time a 12-play drive ended with Smith connecting on a 32-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead with 6:14 left in the half.
But the Blue Streaks were just as resilient throughout the game. They scored on a 19-yard run by Stewart with 2:38 left in the half for the 14-10 lead.
With nearly 2,700 yards and 30-plus touchdowns entering the game, Stewart was limited to the one score and 91 yards on 20 attempts.
“Stewart is incredible, and to be able to bottle him up like that was outstanding,” Fox said. “Our guys rallied to the football. He had to see all 11 of our guys at some point.”
For Norwalk, Raymore ran 24 times for 97 yards and a TD, while Maloney added 43 yards and a score on 12 attempts. Chapin was 13-of-22 passing for 163 yards and two interceptions.
Livingston caught four passes for 87 yards and Haraway added five catches for 41 yards.
“We’ve got a Thanksgiving dinner together next week,” Chapin said. “That’s what we talked about at the beginning. Coach Fox told us in the gym the other day that we could all be sitting at the dinner table together on Thanksgiving, but it was up to us if we wanted that — and we did.
Added Sommers, “Coach (Steve) Andres said we’re getting a blowup turkey. We’ve been dreaming about that since the playoffs started.”
Sandusky 7 7 3 0 — 17
Norwalk 7 3 7 3 — 20
S — Terrance Reed 11 pass from Shonsai Aaaron (Max Corso kick)
N — Trevon Raymore 7 run (Garrison Smith kick)
N — Smith 32 field goal
S — Stewart 19 run (Corso kick)
N —Alec Maloney 6 run (Smith kick)
S — Corso 37 field goal
N — Smith 29 field goal