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Norwalk Football Takes on State's Top-Ranked Team

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk High’s football team has thrived in an underdog role all season. So coach Sean Ireland isn't concerned that most observers expect No. 1 seed Xavier to end the Bears’ remarkable season in Saturday’s Class LL semifinals.

“I told the players that nobody’s expecting this from us all season long,’’ Ireland said. “Are they the best team in the state? We’re going to find out. We’re going to show up and play hard, and let’s see what happens.”

Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at West Haven High School. Xavier (11-0) is the state’s top-ranked team in the latest New Haven Register state poll. The fifth-seeded Bears (9-1) advanced to the semifinals with a 21-15 victory Tuesday over No. 4 Conard of West Hartford. Xavier, of Middletown, defeated Glastonbury in the quarterfinals, 34-6.

The Bears will be challenged on both sides of the ball. The biggest challenge for the Bears will be defensively, as Xavier is averaging 42.3 points per game. The Falcons’ closest game this fall was a 42-20 win over Cheshire. They have scored 40 or more points in six of their 11 games.

Xavier features running back Mike Mastrionni, who entered the playoffs with 1,136 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. Quarterbacks Pat D’Amato and Tim Boyle have combined for 18 touchdown passes and rushed for 13 more. The Falcons averaged 264.3 yards per game rushing in 10 regular season games.

Norwalk’s strength, however, is its defense. The Bears have allowed more than two touchdowns in only two games this season, against New Canaan and Harding, which scored late in the game with the outcome set. No team has pushed around the Bears, who have played well against some terrific offenses in Stamford, Ridgefield and Conard. The defense stopped Conard twice inside the 10-yard line in Tuesday’s game.

“They showed what they’re about,’’ Ireland said. “Two times inside the 10, and they didn’t score. They played their hearts out.”

Bobby Stringfellow (107 tackles, six sacks) and Patrick Whalen (eight sacks) are among the defensive leaders. Johnny Anzalone had two interceptions in Tuesday’s game.

Norwalk’s offense is led by quarterback Delshawn Wilson (13 touchdowns passing, five rushing). He is the Bears’ leading rusher in an offense that also features Anzalone (six rushing touchdowns), Tomar Joseph (eight touchdowns) and Derick Edwards, who has caught 39 passes, eight of them for touchdowns. Edwards had the biggest catch in Tuesday’s game, a 78-yard touchdown pass that put Norwalk ahead to stay in the second quarter.

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