No. 24 J.W. North 45, Norco 14

NORCO -- The route Justin Gheorghe takes to the end zone isn’t always pretty but it’s usually the most efficient.

The senior quarterback for J.W. North was at his best Friday night in a Big VIII League finale against Norco, throwing four touchdown passes and running for two more in a 45-14 victory at Norco High.

“Sometimes you want to choke him to death, and other times you just kind of shake your head in wonderment,” said J.W. North coach Mark Paredes. “I don’t think he was sharp tonight in our passing game, but he sure makes plays.”

Gheorghe now has 27 touchdown passes this season and has been intercepted just twice.

“The key has been making my reads,” said Gheorghe, a 6-foot senior left-hander who was a member of J.W. North's Division 1 championship baseball team last June.

Heading into the game, the Huskies (9-1, 6-1) had all but sewn up the league’s runner-up spot behind Corona Centennial, and Norco was destined to finish fourth and grab the final playoff berth into the Southern Section Inland Division playoffs beginning next week.

Norco (6-4, 4-3) played as if it had nothing to aim for, getting outscored, 31-0, in the first half.

“We came out lethargic because we already knew we had a spot in the playoffs,” said Norco running back Joseph Ajeigbe, who was held under 100 yards rushing for just the second time this season. “We didn’t come out with the intensity we should have. North came out better prepared. They’re a really good team.”

Norco fumbled the opening kickoff and the Huskies quickly capitalized, taking a 7-0 lead on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Gheorghe to running back Denzel Foster. J.W. North scored on its next two possessions as well. Gheorghe hit wide receiver Garrette Biggers on a 30-yard touchdown pass, then hooked up with wide receiver Denziel Myers on a nine-yard strike.

Gheorghe then made his only mistake of the night, getting intercepted by junior defensive back Justin Martin, but he answered with a 10-yard touchdown run with 4:23 remaining in the first half to put the Huskies ahead, 31-0.

“We had our best week of practice,” Gheorghe said “We did everything right, we were on our best cylinders at the beginning, that’s what helped us. This feels good to know we beat a well-deserved opponent that has some rank around the Empire … it feels good to put up some numbers against them.”

Norco will likely face a first-place team from another league in the opening round of the playoffs, a tough matchup considering Norco’s success in the postseason over the years. The Cougars are 20-6 in the playoffs the last eight seasons and hasn’t lost in the first round.

“We’ve just got to get our act together,” Ajeigbe said. “I think this showed us that we can’t just walk over teams like we think we can. We need to prepare and we need to come out here like we can.”

The playoff pairings will be released Sunday morning.