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Norwalk High Faces Key Test vs. New Canaan

NORWALK, Conn. – Experience and confidence can carry a high school football team a long way. And the Norwalk High Bears credit both for their success heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. contest against New Canaan in a battle of undefeated teams.

“A lot of us have been three-year starters,’’ said senior offensive and defensive lineman Patrick Whalen. “We had a good freshman team, and we knew we had a good class of kids. I don’t know if we thought we’d be this good. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”

“Each game that we played, we just kept getting better and better,’’ said senior Gil Araujo, another two-way Norwalk starter. “All that experience is paying off right now.”

Norwalk went 2-8 two years ago and 4-6 last season. The losses the Bears endured while playing as underclassmen taught them what adjustments they needed to make. They have made them, and the result is one of the most anticipated games in recent memory for Norwalk.

“This is a chance to see if Norwalk really has it right now,’’ Araujo said. “People say we might not be as good as our record indicates. This will be a good benchmark to see how good we really are.”

There is no better benchmark in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference than New Canaan, which has won six state championships since 2001. The Rams are always among the FCIAC’s elite. Friday’s game is a chance for Norwalk to establish its credentials for those who might doubt them. Both teams bring 4-0 records to the contest.

“From our perspective, we think we’re an underdog,’’ Whalen said. “Not many people will pick us to win. I think it makes it a little bit easier. We don’t have to live up to any expectations. We’re just trying to go 1-0 every week.”

Whalen believes Norwalk gained confidence in its season-opening 20-14 win over Danbury. The Bears followed up with a resounding 25-12 win over Stamford, and then beat Westhill and Trinity Catholic.

The Rams survived a close call last week against Brien McMahon, winning with a late touchdown. Quarterback Matt Milano (11 touchdowns, two interceptions, 235.8 yard per game passing) has been the league’s top player this season. “Their quarterback is just outstanding,’’ Araujo said. “He has that college sense about him. He looks through his progressions and the receivers know how to get in the right spot. They’re always playing 48 minutes.”

Norwalk has weapons of its own, including a multi-dimensional running attack with quarterback Delshawn Wilson, and running backs Joe Anzalone, Tomar Joseph, Kenny Francois and Dave Klein. Wilson has rushed for a team-high 239 yards and also thrown for six touchdowns and just one interception in his first year at the position.

“It’s basically like having another running back in there,’’ Whalen said. “And then if teams stack the box trying to stop the run, he throws over it. He’s been really good for us running and throwing the football.”

There is still a lot of season left for Norwalk. Ridgefield will be a tough opponent next week, and the Thanksgiving Day contest vs. Brien McMahon should be a high school classic. The focus this week, however, is New Canaan. The Bears can’t wait for it.

“It’s going to be tough going to school and not thinking about the game,’’ Araujo said. “For the past few years, we haven’t been on the good side of .500. We know we can put Norwalk back on the map.”

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