Mark Iheanachor leads Narbonne to victory over Venice

Narbonne tailback Mark Iheanachor runs for a touchdown in the second quarter of a 28-10 win over Venice on Thursday night. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

After a Herculean individual performance Thursday night at Venice High, Narbonne junior Mark Iheanachor issued a warning to future opponents: Do not underestimate the Gauchos.

“This season’s not about making it to the Open Division — it’s about winning it,” Iheanachor said after running for a touchdown, setting up two more with long runs and making tackle after tackle on defense to spark his team’s 28-10 nonleague victory. “We needed this…we’re getting guys back who were hurt and from here on out we should win every game. We have too much talent not to.”

Only a junior, Iheanachor already has numerous college offers and it is easy to see why given his power and strength as a running back, linebacker and on kick coverage. He carried the ball on 14 of the Gauchos’ first 19 offensive snaps and only missed a handful of plays all game, mostly just to catch his breath.

Read more: High school football scores: Week 3 results

“Yeah, I needed a breather every once in a while,” he said jokingly. “I like being out there. I like having the ball. Sure, offense is more fun but I like defense more—that’s where the dogs come out.

“We got to the [Division I] semifinals last year but we can go all the way this year. Birmingham is the team everyone’s chasing, so that might be a good game down the line.”

Triston Thomas scored the Gauchos’ first touchdown on a 28-yard run midway through the first quarter and Iheanachor’s eight-yard score on a sweep doubled the lead early in the second quarter.

Despite forcing six fumbles (recovering three) and intercepting a pass, the Gondoliers (1-2) were unable to capitalize on their field position and turned the ball over on downs five times.

“Our passing game was hit or miss,” Venice coach Angelo Gasca said. “We’re a little young and we have to get better. That’s the bottom line. Hats off to Narbonne—they played well. I’m proud of our defense.”

Narbonne linebacker Mark Iheanachor tackles Venice wide receiver Ryan Watson in the fourth quarter Thursday.

Narbonne linebacker Mark Iheanachor tackles Venice wide receiver Ryan Watson in the fourth quarter Thursday. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Wideout Nathan Santa Cruz, who in the Gondoliers’ first game last season suffered a head injury that required brain surgery, only had a few balls thrown his way 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 playing receiver and it’s not all about deep balls. We’ve got to find ways to get Nathan the ball, whether it’s rub routes or slants.”

Amir Smith’s 16-yard touchdown catch pulled Venice to within 14-7 late run the second quarter and a 38-yard field goal made it 14-10 midway through the quarter. Narbonne (2-2) took over from there. Ehren Gowdy caught a sideline pass, deked a defender and sprinted 43 yards for a touchdown to clinch the victory with 1:21 left.

“Our defense came to play tonight and that’s our identity,” Iheanachor said. “When you lose two of your first three games people are going to write you off, but we know how good we are when we don’t beat ourselves.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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