LEO-CEDARVILLE – Without his top receiver, and against one of the best teams in the state, Norwell quarterback Piercen Harnish was determined to make sure the Knights' football season got off to a better-than-usual start.
So he rushed 26 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 10 of 17 passes for 129 yards, as the Knights eked out a 14-13 victory at Leo on Friday night.
“We want to take one game at a time. We want to recap this Leo game and get ready for Heritage, make sure we have a good game plan for them. Then, let's go get another one,” said Harnish, who lauded the play of his offensive line.
“And we've got some backs out right now that are hurting. So we have some backs who are playing both ways and they played amazing. I think the play calling was great tonight. It was hot, but it was hot on both sides of the field tonight, as they say, and I think that was a big factor that our running backs played very well.”
Last season, Norwell lost its first five games, en route to a 6-6 season. In 2012, the Knights lost their first nine and in 2011, it was their first six.
“It was a great team effort against Leo and at 14-13, we'll take it,” said Norwell coach Jeff Miller, whose team is ranked 15th in Class 4A.
Down 14-7, the Lions, ranked ninth, looked as if they would tie the game after a Brett Santilli hit caused Harnish to fumble the ball into the hands of Leo's Austin Rinker. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kray Klopfenstein with 1:06 left in the quarter, but Ben Von Gunten missed the extra-point attempt.
The Lions, who were 10-1 last season, were in danger of their first regular-season loss since falling at Lebanon 29-28 in Week 2 of 2010. They hadn't lost a season opener since Norwell won 28-19 in Ossian in 2009, which preceded four straight Leo wins in the series.
Leo couldn't avoid the loss; running back Logan Leiter was stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the Norwell 31-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the game.
“It was just kids making plays. There wasn't a defensive scheme there or anything like that. It was just our guys making a play against their guys,” Miller said.
Klopfenstein completed 5 of 12 passes for 64 yards and an interception, made by Ashton McCune, and Klopfenstein rushed for 29 yards. Leiter and Jordan Hissong combined for 50 rushing yards.
After a game-opening squib kick backfired for Leo, it took Norwell only three plays to reach the end zone – Harnish ran in from 19 yards out – before the extra-point attempt was blocked.
After a 56-yard Leiter touchdown was called back on a holding call, Norwell lost its top receiver, Reggie Hayes, to a head injury when he went over the middle with 10:38 left in the second quarter, made a catch but was sandwiched between two Leo players. His helmet came flying off, and he was on the ground for a couple of minutes before leaving under his own power with three catches for 53 yards.
The Knights still scored on the drive; Harnish ran up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown, then completed a two-point conversion pass to Nathaniel Mayer.
Leiter then took the kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Norwell lead to 14-7 with 8:12 left in the first half.