Matchup of state's No. 12 vs. No. 14 ranked teams goes to the No. 12 Indians, but the Cubs nearly come back from 23-7 deficit.

Wrapping up a 2-3 nonleague schedule might not be a cause for celebration for very many high school football teams, but none of those teams played a series of foes quite like Hart of Newhall.

Hart capped its tough stretch on Friday at College of the Canyons with a 23-16 triumph over Loyola of Los Angeles. Its first three games were against state-ranked Los Alamitos (17-13 loss), state-ranked St. Bonaventure of Ventura (41-32 loss) and state-ranked Westlake of Westlake Village (25-24 loss). Last week saw a 45-22 win over defending L.A. City Section champ Birmingham of Lake Balboa.

"These were the toughest five games of my entire life," said Hart quarterback Sean Norton, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. "I know it's made us better and showed where we're at as a team."

Norton's most crucial pass of the night came with less than four minutes left on a third down play. Had he not connected with sophomore Terry Leigh (his only catch of the game) on a 31-yard fade route down the left sidelines, the Indians would have had to punt to a team with a lot of momentum. As it turned out, Loyola never got the ball back.

The Cubs, who played Venice and Antelope Valley of Lancaster as among its previous four opponents, scored on their opening drive of the game. Hart matched it and then rang off 16 more points in a row before the tide turned, thanks to two Indian turnovers.

Loyola cut the lead to 23-16 on a 34-yard field goal by Thomas Weber with 5:08 left. The Cubs had scored earlier in the quarter on a six-yard pass from Scott Deke to George Hypolite.

Hart's Daniel Howell had an outstanding game. The 6-2, 200-pound senior caught a seven-yard scoring pass from Norton in the first quarter and had a six-yard touchdown run in the second. Howell finished with 28 carries for 112 yards plus three catches for 16 yards. On defense, he had a sack and knocked down a pass.

"We're still working to improve," Howell said. "These games humbled us and we know we have to work twice as hard."

So now that it's over, was Hart head coach Mike Herrington glad his team played these first five games?

"Yes and no," he said. "The competition was great, but to especially play such powerhouses with a defense that had only two starters back might not have been a good idea. We came out with a lot of intensity in that first game, but we didn't in the second."

Based on the scores of the five games, one might think that St. Bonaventure was the top team the Indians played.

"That was the worst Hart has ever played in its history," Howell said of that second game. "Defensively, we were messing up completely. St. Bonaventure is not that good."

Hart gets a respite from its tough schedule this Friday with a home game against Burbank. Games in the Foothill League against Valencia and Canyon of Canyon Country, though, should be very challenging.

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