Michael Oralls had a mere two carries through three games this season for Norwich.
But when starting fullback Grant Brightman left Friday’s game at Windsor early, the Purple Tornado coaching staff knew immediately who to turn to.
Oralls ran for 107 yards and three touchdowns as Norwich rolled to a 29-14 victory over the host Black Knights in Section 4 Football Conference Division III contest.
Norwich (1-0, 3-1) won its third straight game to move into a tie with Chenango Valley atop the Division III standings and can clinch a Section 4 Class B playoff berth next Friday with a victory at Oneonta.
It looked a little ominous early when Brightman exited for good with an undisclosed injury on the first play of the game.
But Oralls, a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore, delivered several big runs in his absence.
His 14-yard run put Norwich on the board, 7-0, with 2:30 remaining in the first quarter, and he added a 30-yard touchdown run with 6:10 remaining in the second quarter to push the lead to 13-0.
Those runs paled, however, to his final touchdown effort. That was a 36-yard scamper in which Oralls stutter-stepped near the line of scrimmage before cutting left into open space, eventually breaking a tackle before finding the end zone with 2:52 left in the third quarter to put Norwich safely ahead, 29-0.
“We faced a little bit of adversity but our offensive line stepped up and really got us ready for this,” Oralls said. “It was a great division win.”
Norwich coach John Martinson, noting that Oralls was a dominant ball-carrier last year on the JV, was confident that he could handle the running duties sufficiently.
“We’ve always known he’s had it in him but unfortunately we’ve had to play him at tight end,” Martinson said. “With Grant going down, it was a no-brainer to put him at fullback. Putting him there, he was comfortable.”
Windsor (0-1, 2-2) had some success moving the ball in the early going, only to come up empty.
Its second drive ended near midfield when receiver Michael Niggli fumbled following a 9-yard gain that would have produced a first down.
Two possessions later, Windsor drove to the Norwich 33. But after successive incomplete passes on second and third downs, Norwich defensive end Trent Stone sacked quarterback Josh Cady for a 9-yard loss on fourth-and-9 that kept Norwich’s lead at 13-0 with just under three minutes remaining in the second quarter.
“It was a pinch call, I had to pinch between the end and the tackle,” Stone said. “I used my speed, got in there and got the sack.”
Norwich then embarked on an eight-play, 58-yard scoring drive, capped by Kyle Edwards’ leaping 3-yard grab of a Michael Sutton pass in the end zone with 9.2 seconds left that gave the Purple Tornado a comfortable 19-0 lead heading into halftime.
“We weren’t sure we wanted to kick it or not,” Martinson said of the touchdown call, “We knew we had that there and Kyle made a nice catch.”
Edwards added 59 yards rushing as Norwich tallied 229 yards on the ground and 280 overall for the game.
Cady completed 10 of 20 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Isma’il Griffin, who had 239 rushing yards and four touchdowns in Windsor’s 36-13 victory at Susquehanna Valley last Saturday, was limited to 57 yards on 17 carries.
“We started off pretty well, then Oralls started breaking our backs out there after a while,” Windsor coach Tim Hogan said. “I thought Josh made some good reads throwing the ball, but they were just making making more plays than we were.”