CRETE — Zane Leyden helped Norris break out with a 95-yard kickoff return to open the second half and lead the Titans to a 35-14 victory over Crete on Friday night at Papik Field at Doane University.
"All things being equal, that one play made everything go for us — we breathed easier, we executed better and we simply played better," said Norris coach Ty Twarling, whose team is 2-0 in his first year as head coach at Norris.
"We made too many mistakes to start the game and this was because we weren't focused and missing the chemistry in the first half," Twarling said. "But that return had great blocking, a great run by Leyden and we weren't perfect, but we were better."
Norris led 14-7 at halftime and fought off a number of threats by Crete.
The Cardinals, 1-1, saw Norris convert a third-and-7 situation on a 40-yard pass from Aidan Oerter to Ethan Schmit that set up the second score for the Titans — a 2-yard run by Ashton Hausmann.
But the second-half kickoff return, followed by two sacks for losses of 17 yards by Norris defensive end James Carnie, seemed to knock Crete for a loop.
"We did some good things, but we never did enough to get right back in this game after that return," said Crete first-year coach Mark Newmeyer.
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"I thought Norris played a great game, especially in the second half, and Carnie was a big part of that on defense," he said.
Carnie, a former safety, moved to defensive end this summer. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound junior led the Titan defense with four tackles for losses.
"We really woke up after the first half," said Carnie. "Zane (Leyden) got it going with that return. He's hard to catch in practice. And I think our team just played well after that."
Norris held Crete to 6 yards passing in the second half and posted six tackles for losses in the final two quarters.
"Crete can get you going the wrong way with their option and their speed and it took a great effort and great focus by our defense to get this game going our way," Carnie said.
Hausmann led Norris with two touchdowns and 83 yards rushing.