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SPOTLIGHT
Norton meets Phillipsburg with season on the line

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Norton meets Phillipsburg with season on the line

Published on -10/24/2012, 11:34 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

In the season opener, the Norton High School football team defeated rival Smith Center 34-13 at home, a game that ended a five-game losing streak that dated back to Week 4 in 2011. The Bluejays held the Redmen to their lowest point total in the annual matchup since 2003. It could have been lower, but Smith Center scored a meaningless TD in the final minute.

"That set the tone for how good we could be," coach Lucas Melvin said. "It's always a test when you play Smith Center."

The next week, Norton defeated Goodland 22-7 and the Cowboys' lone touchdown came on a kickoff return.

"I like to think our defense really established itself early on," Melvin said.

Norton's defense, coupled with a strong multi-faceted offense, has helped the Bluejays bounce back form a 3-6 season last year. Norton is 6-2, 1-1 in Class 3A, District 14.

On Thursday, the Bluejays will travel to rival Phillipsburg (7-1, 1-1) with the winner reaching the postseason.

In arguably the state's toughest Class 3A district, Phillipsburg and Norton have both lost to Beloit and beat Minneapolis. The four teams are a combined 20-4 in non-district matchups.

"It comes down to this game," Melvin said. "It's all or nothing."

"If you ask a lot of people from here, that is the one team we like to beat, and it's always a battle, always a good game," Phillipsburg senior safety Tad Thompson said.

Phillipsburg led Beloit late in Week 7, but lost 32-27 in a game it felt it should have won. Last week, Norton lost 56-9 to Beloit, but had more than 100 penalty yards. The Bluejays had the ball inside the Trojans' 20-yard line four times, but came away with just three points. However, Beloit won the yardage edge by a small margin, 293-245. Against Phillipsburg, Beloit won the yardage battle 466-286.

Norton has a 5-3 edge in the last eight years against the Panthers in the long running series. Six of the last eight meetings have been within 16 points.

"Opportunity to play a great team with a lot of tradition and historically over the last few years have had a lot of good ball games with them and a lot on the line, same this year," Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington said.

Melvin, in his seventh year with the Bluejays, has posted a 50-22 record as head coach. This year, Norton has averaged 27.6 points per contest, similar to the program's 30.5 average under Melvin. Norton senior quarterback Dalton Miller has played well in the short passing game, while senior running back Jacob Brooks continues to be a multi-purpose threat.

"Feel like their offensive line is really athletic," Covington said. "Miller can really throw the ball, especially on the short route. Brooks is one of those guys who catches the ball, or even on a toss play or anything like that, if he gets some open running space, he is awfully fast. He is the fastest kid in our league.

"That presents some problems," he added. "We have got to know where he is all the time. He lines up at a lot of different positions. A lot of people have said to us it is all about Brooks, but we are seeing on tape, there is a lot of other good football players on that team, too."

In Melvin's first five seasons, Norton allowed between 13.7 and 16 points a game. Last year, it bumped up to 29.1 points a contest. This year, Norton has permitted 18.9 points a contest, 17th-best in the 64-team classification.

"There has been a lot of times where our defense has stepped up where maybe our offense wasn't able to," Melvin said. "I think they have done a lot of good things starting at the beginning of the year. ... Year in and year out, you try to get your kids on defense to be sound and do their job, and run to the ball and be good tacklers."

Last season, Norton had several injuries, including Treven Rossi, a key senior linebacker this fall.

"He has done a great job and plays hard," Rossi said.

This year, the Bluejays have stayed healthy. Melvin said the entire defense has been solid, but said Rossi, senior linebackers John Risewick and Jared Bohl, and senior defensive lineman Lucas Engel have played especially well. Last year, Norton went 0-3 in districts and already was eliminated by Week 9. This fall, a healthy and improved defense has kept the Bluejays in the playoff hunt.

"Felt like it could have been a little different last year in districts," Melvin said. "That happens. Injuries happen and you have got to overcome them. We obviously didn't last year, and we have been fairly fortunate this year."

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