After a Herculean individual performance Thursday night at Venice High, Narbonne junior Mark Iheanachor warned his future opponents: Don’t underestimate the Gauchos.
“This season isn’t about making it to the Open Division – it’s about winning it,” Iheanachor said after rushing for a touchdown, setting up two more with long runs and making tackle after tackle on defense, to seal his team’s 28-10 non-league victory. “We needed this… we get injured players back and from now on we should win every game. We have too much talent not to do it.”
Iheanachor is only a junior and has already received numerous college offers, and given his power and strength at running back, linebacker and kick coverage, it’s easy to see why. He carried the ball on 14 of the Gauchos’ first 19 offensive snaps and missed only a handful of plays the entire game, mostly just to catch his breath.
“Yeah, I needed a breather every now and then,” he said jokingly. “I like being out there. I like having the ball. Certainly the offense is more fun, but I like the defense more – that’s where the dogs come in.
“We have arrived [Division I] Last year we were in the semi-finals, but this year we can make it to the end. Birmingham are the team everyone is following so it could be a good game across the board.”
Triston Thomas scored the Gauchos’ first touchdown with a 28-yard run midway through the first quarter, and Iheanachor’s 8-yard score on a sweep doubled the lead early in the second quarter.
Although the Gondoliers (1-2) forced six fumbles (recovering three) and intercepted one pass, they were unable to capitalize on their field position, turning the ball over five times on downs.
“Our passing game was a stroke of luck,” said Venice coach Angelo Gasca. “We are still a bit young and have to get better. This is the end result. Hats off to Narbonne – they played well. I’m proud of our defense.”
Wideout Nathan Santa Cruz, who suffered a head injury that required brain surgery in the Gondoliers’ first game last season, was thrown few balls Thursday, largely because Narbonne pressured freshman quarterback Jaiden Noel on every down.
“We’re trying to get him going,” Gasca said. “It’s his first year as a receiver, and it’s not just about deep balls. We have to find ways to get Nathan to the ball, whether it’s rubbing or slanting.”
Amir Smith’s 16-yard touchdown catch brought Venice within 14-7 late in the second quarter, and a 38-yard field goal made the score 14-10 midway through the quarter. From then on Narbonne took over (2:2). Ehren Gowdy caught a pass down the sideline, beat a defender and sprinted 43 yards for a touchdown to secure the win with 1:21 left.
“Our defense came to play tonight and that’s our identity,” Iheanachor said. “If you lose two of your first three games people will write you off, but we know how good we are when we don’t beat ourselves.”