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Norton comes up short against Sacred Heart

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Norton comes up short against Sacred Heart

Published on -10/31/2012, 10:30 AM

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Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA -- Andrew LeValley felt fairly confident Jacob Brooks was going to get the ball and was equally confident in where Brooks was going to go once he got it.

That didn't mean it was going to be easy for LeValley and the Sacred Heart defense to bring Brooks down after the ball was snapped.

The Knights were able to come up with their biggest defensive stop of the season, stretching Brooks to the sideline and tackling him short of the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt with 1:49 remaining. That allowed Sacred Heart to hold on to its two-point advantage and, after an onside kick attempt, run out the clock in a 21-19 victory against the Bluejays on Tuesday night at Salina Stadium.

The win in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs is the Knights' first postseason victory since 2008 and the first for the many seniors on the Sacred Heart roster like LeValley.

"It's surreal. We definitely came out and played hard," LeValley said. "The seniors wanted to get one for coach (Bruce) Graber. He treats us like family and we wanted to get one for him."

After falling in the opening round of the playoffs each of the past two years, the Knights not only got Graber his first postseason victory as Sacred Heart coach, but did it against a Norton team that Graber coached for 11 seasons (1995-2005).

"I've got a great bunch of kids and it is amazing that they would think about doing this for me," Graber said. "I apologized to them yesterday and today and told them it wasn't fair that they had to read so much about me and my time in Norton.

"They certainly could have felt that way. They could have said 'We're tired of hearing about Norton. What about us.' "

Sacred Heart (9-1) will play Saturday at home against unbeaten Scott City. Game time and location will be announced today. Norton ended its season at 7-3.

"I'm just proud of our kids," Norton coach Lucas Melvin said. "It was a great game and Sacred Heart made plays. We had our opportunities and just didn't get it done, but our kids didn't quit."

The Knights came up with several huge plays, not the least of which was the stop on the two-point conversion try. Sacred Heart blocked a 34-yard field goal attempt in the first half, forced three turnovers and held the Bluejays on downs inside the Knights 30 with less than four minutes remaining in the game.

Sacred Heart never trailed in the game and led 14-13 to start the final period. Norton's first possession of fourth quarter ended when senior defensive lineman Raul Picazo recovered a Bluejay fumble at his own 41-yard line with 8:13 to play.

"I saw the ball on the ground and my first instinct was to jump on it," Picazo said. "I put my belly on it and never let go."

The Knights added to their lead on the next possession. The drive included a pass interference call on Norton on a fourth-and-6 play, then a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on the Bluejays that set Sacred Heart up with first-and-goal at the 10-yard line.

Drew Diederich carried it in on the next play, and when Tymony Bonilla added his third extra-point kick of the night, the Knights led 21-13 with 5:47 to play.

Norton moved into Sacred Heart territory on its next possession and had a fourth-and-2 from the 30. The give up the middle to fullback Jared Bohl was close to the first down, but officials brought in the chains for a measurement.

After the chains were stretched out, the official had to lean down to get a closer look before determining the Bluejays had come up slightly short.

"That fourth-down stop was huge," Graber said. "I don't think you could have gotten a pin between the stick and the football."

After Norton stopped the Knights on the next possession, the Bluejays went 81 yards in only three plays. Carson McKenna's 30-yard touchdown reception from Dalton Miller pulled Norton within two, setting up the potential tying conversion run.

Brooks, a senior tailback who had 200 of his 208 yards rushing in the second half, got the ball and raced toward the right end. But the Knights defense cut off his path, with LeValley wrapping him up around the waist and dragging Brooks to the ground.

"Coach told me they like to bounce that play outside," LeValley said. "They had been running that play a lot so coach put me in the right spot and I made the tackle."

After Nick Wuthnow recovered the onside kick attempt, the Knights were able to snap the ball three times and run out the clock.

"The past few years have been tough," Picazo said. "We lost in the first round the last two years, but now we've got the monkey off our backs and we're not satisfied. "We want to go out and get another one."

After gaining only 60 yards of offense in the first half, Norton had 314 in the second half. The Bluejays had a pair of big scoring plays in the third quarter, the first on a 64-yard pass from Miller to Tanner Furbush, and the second on a 66-yard run from Brooks.

"We just decided if Sacred Heart was going to stack the box, we would try to run it down their throats," Melvin said. "We got into the Power-I, which was probably something we should have done earlier."

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