NORWALK, Conn. On offense and defense, Norwalk High senior Johnny Anzalone has played a pivotal role in the football teams two most recent victories.
Anzalone and the Bears will need a similar effort Saturday to upset No. 1 seed Xavier in Saturdays semifinals of the Class LL playoffs. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at West Haven High School. If the fifth-seeded Bears (9-1) are to reach their first state final, Anzalone will be one of the keys to helping them get there.
In Tuesdays 21-15 win over Conard, Anzalone intercepted two passes and rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown. In the 17-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Brien McMahon, Anzalone had another interception and ran for a touchdown.
On a team that has a number of talented athletes, its easy to overlook Anzalones contributions. But in the last two games, he has been impossible to ignore.
The funny thing is, he didnt have a game like he had [Tuesday] all season, coach Sean Ireland said. Hes been consistent all year long. Our backs get a lot of attention, but hes as good as anyone. It always seems like he makes a big play for us.
There was no one bigger than Anzalone on Tuesday night. After Norwalk mounted a long drive to open the game, the Bears were stopped on the Conard 4-yard line. Conard came right back and needed just three plays to march inside Norwalk territory. Anzalone got the ball back with an interception and returned it 52 yards before getting shoved out of bounds at the Conard 1-yard line. Tomar Joseph scored on the next play to give the Bears an early 7-0 lead.
Hes an excellent defensive back, Ireland said. Hes a very smart football player. Hes always in the right spot. Hes a tough kid, he wont back down to anybody. I love those types of kids.
Anzalone also stopped Conards first drive of the second half with an interception. He finished the game with four tackles. He has four interceptions on the season, and his best defensive performance may have been in a 27-12 win over Ridgefield when he had eight tackles and broke up three passes.
After his second interception against Conard, Anzalone scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a 5-yard run. The touchdown put the Bears up 21-7, which proved essential when Conard scored a touchdown late in the game.
Anzalone led the team in rushing against Conard, and has had some other big games this year. He rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over Fairfield Ludlowe, and added 97 yards in a 42-13 win over Westhill. He is averaging 6.82 yards per carry.
Anzalones running ability prevents teams from keying on quarterback Delshawn Wilson. Anzalone is also versatile, with the ability to run strong between the tackles and quick enough to get to the outside.
Without our other guys in the backfield, hed be getting a lot more carries, Ireland said. Hed be the feature back on a lot of teams. He runs behind his pads better than any of our backs. He might be our best overall runner.
Ireland said summer weight training has paid off for Anzalone, who started several games toward the end of last season. We knew he had the ability if he put in his time in the weight room, Ireland said. He put in his time.
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