Norwell coach Jeff Miller boiled the message of his pregame speech down to two words: Why not?
Why shouldn't the Knights, winless in the regular season, believe they could turn conventional wisdom on its head in the postseason?
“We're underdogs every game,” sophomore quarterback Piercen Harnish said. “Why not?”
Apparently, there's no reason why not. Using tremendous defensive effort, solid offense and a big special-team play, Norwell upset New Haven 22-20 on Friday at New Haven to advance to the Class 4A sectional championship game.
Norwell (2-9) will play Bishop Dwenger (5-6) this Friday at Norwell.
Miller said his players took on some fresh energy after their opening-round win over Logansport, and it carried over into this week's preparation and Friday night.
“Monday, the kids were talking about how this is a lot different, practicing after a win,” Miller said. “It's a great feeling. There's no better feeling, no better team game than football. You learn a lot when you come up short. But at some point, you want to feel good. I'm sure they feel good now. We'll feel good for a couple days, chop 'em back down and see what the plan is for next week.”
New Haven (8-3) got on the scoreboard first with an Anthony Moore 28-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 late in the first quarter.
But Norwell answered with a 12-play, 72-yard drive. Harnish hit sophomore Reggie Hayes on a 37-yard completion on a third-and-9 play to the New Haven 12-yard line. Three plays later, Harnish barreled in for the touchdown. He then hit William Gerber on a two-point conversion for an 8-7 lead.
"We told our kids this wasn't the same team we saw in Week 5 (a 28-10 New Haven win)," New Haven coach Jim Rowland said.
Harnish finished with 26 carries for 145 yards and two touchdowns as Norwell followed Miller's plan to use as much clock as possible. Harnish nearly had another touchdown at the end of the half, but New Haven defenders broke up the pass to Hayes at the goal line.
“I've got to give it to my linemen,” Harnish said. “Those guys worked their butts off. They get everything. We worked hard all week and they just played amazing.”
Norwell's defense made a big stand on New Haven's first possession of the third quarter with senior Spencer Newell and junior Tanner Moon sacking New Haven senior quarterback Kevin Ware on fourth-and-10 at the Norwell 25. The Knights defense was led by Reid Jutte's 8.5 tackles, Harnish's six and Alex Mills' 5.5.
Momentum shifted again Norwell's way late in the third quarter when senior Nate Simerson took a New Haven punt 38 yards for a touchdown. Harnish hit senior Nathan Shelton for the two-point conversion and a 16-7 lead.
“When we got that third-quarter stop, New Haven had to play with some pressure, and then Nate Simerson with the return touchdown and the two-point conversion was huge,” Miller said. “It was a game where our kids played hard and deserved to win the game.”
New Haven tightened the game on a Ware 30-yard touchdown pass to senior Isaiah Lee at the end of the third quarter. The kick failed and Norwell led 16-13.
Harnish made it 22-13 on a 36-yard scoring run midway through the fourth quarter.
“Thinking about having to defend that kid for the next couple years is not something I look forward to,” Rowland said. “He's a hard-nosed kid, a great leader out there. As he goes, his team goes. And this was a perfect game for him. They kept it tight and kept the ball in his hands.”
New Haven's last chance at a comeback win came when Ware hit junior wide receiver Jordan Hogue on a pair of passes, the second 29 yards for a score to make it 22-20 with 2:15 left.
Norwell ran out the clock and the game ended on a final punt.
Ware was 10-for-19 passing for 148 yards and two scores. Anthony Moore rushed 19 times for 120 yards, and Hogue caught seven passes for 109 yards. Rowland praised his senior class for a great season.
Norwell left with an improbable win and a season still alive.
“Last week's win got our morale up,” Harnish said. “Everybody thought, 'If we can win one game, why don't we just keep winning?' ”