By Sara Welch | Correspondent
Remaining unbeaten in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division with only one loss overall for the season, Norton defeated Field 47-21 on Friday night at Kenneth Lohr Stadium in Brimfield.
The win keeps the Panthers on track with Kent Roosevelt, which defeated Streetsboro 33-6 on Friday, as both teams are still knotted atop the Metro standings.
Despite the Panthers-Falcons final score, for one quarter of play it appeared to be Field that had the momentum. In the first quarter, Field held Norton scoreless, while putting up seven points of its own.
However, the initial surge Field presented proved to be unsustainable in the second quarter as Norton responded with 26 unanswered points before halftime.
Norton's defensive effort in the second quarter deserves the credit for sucking away any momentum the Falcons could muster and shutting down any opportunity they had.
"Our 'D' has been playing really well the last three weeks," Norton head coach John Tanksley said. "This is the fourth week in a row. They've just stepped things up. Guys are flying. They're finally listening. They're staying on the line of scrimmage. They're going flat down the line of scrimmage. They're doing what they're supposed to do.
"The kids are doing a great job," Tanksley said. "We've got two great defensive ends that are solidifying everything on the outside and two linebackers that are doing a great job for us."
Following Norton's first touchdown, just nine seconds into the second quarter on an 11-yard Jake Fling run, Field's Cory Simpson managed a 55-yard return, giving the Falcons prime field position. Unable to handle the defensive pressure, Field fumbled the ball and Norton's Steve Anderson pounced for the recovery.
After the Panthers took possession, Fling took off on a 33-yard carry, getting the ball down near Field's 20-yard line. One reception and a couple runs later, Brandon Cuda crossed the goal line for the Panthers, putting them ahead 12-7.
Fling scored from 10 yards out for Norton's third touchdown, and threw Cuda a 15-yard touchdown pass with just over a minute left before halftime, surprising Field's defense with a flea-flicker just before the end of the half.
"Jake has stepped it up this year. He's running really hard. Like I said though, he worked his butt off in the off-season. He's gotten stronger. His legs are thicker. He doesn't stop, he just keeps going. When people hit him, they kind of bounce off a little bit too, and he's a hard runner. With him and Jimmy Keys back there, it's hard to bring those guys down," Tanksley said.
Fling finished the night with three touchdowns and close to 190 yards rushing. Key also had a touchdown he ran in from 5 yards out.
The Falcons tried to rally one last time after scoring their second touchdown at the end of the third quarter, trailing 40-14. They were able to recover their onside kick that followed their late scoring drive and completed a 32-yard pass on the following possession, getting them just eight yards away from cutting deficit by another touchdown with the entire fourth quarter left to play.
However, interceptions cost them. Norton's Ethan Humes caught the ball in Field's end zone, snatching any hope of a comeback in the fourth quarter. That was Field's third and most costly interception of the night.
Moving into the final weeks of the season and hoping to finish undefeated in the league, the Panthers look forward to two tough games with Springfield next week and Kent Roosevelt to close out the season in Week 10.
"We're worried about both of them. You've got Springfield coming up and they only lost 19-14 (to Kent Roosevelt). They've been playing really good football recently," Tanksley said. "And we've got Roosevelt, who won the league the last seven years. You play those guys and they're used to winning and they're a great football team."