KENDALLVILLE – There certainly was a sense of relief in the the second quarter when East Noble’s Justin Marcellus pounded the ball in from 5 yards out ending a long drive and a surprisingly scoreless game opposite fellow Northeast 8 unbeaten Leo.
Relief turned to empowerment and by game’s end, Knights coach Luke Amstutz was telling his team that he felt like “a broken record” with his post game speeches: here they were again after a dominating, 35-7, victory over a team many thought could keep the game close. But at the same time, he doesn’t want his Knights to look too far ahead.
“Things can change so fast,” Amstutz said. “You have to savor every moment, enjoy it and you have to love be around each other. We are doing those things right now and if we can stay healthy, we can be doing those things for a long time.”
The Knights mixed and matched their offense after Leo held them scoreless in the first, highlighting a Lion defense many weren’t 100 percent sold on through four weeks. As usual, Bailey Parker did his heavy lifting for East Noble, but Marcellus ignited things to with his power running game. It led to his game opening touchdown and save for a Kaeden Miller 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, it was all East Noble.
Just three minutes after East Noble broke the 0-0 tie in the second quarter, Parker faked a hand off, making the defense commit to the run before the Knight quarterback pulled the ball away and took off up the left sideline for a 16 yard touchdown.
Eerily similar to a week prior, the Knights scored their third touchdown in the closing moments of the first half, firmly establishing their hold on the NE8. After a bad snap made Parker throw the ball away close to the end zone, he then found Gage Ernsberger with 13.1 seconds left in the back right side of the endzone, as Ernsberger rose up to catch it and make it 21-7 at the break.
“It makes it a lot easier on my part. At times I may not be perfect throwing the ball, but I can always trust that they will go up and get it. We’ve been staying after practice and getting our timing down every week,” Parker said of his still growing connection with his receivers.
When the two connected again just a minute and a half into the second half, almost every question about this game had been answered.
While Leo made some strides throughout the game from Miller, Peyton Wall and quarterback Jackson Barbour. They were more often than not met by a wall of East Noble defenders who were everywhere on the field. With Leyth Al-Mohammedawi, Cole Schupbach, Hayden Jones and others often clogging up Leo’s attempt to move north and south, Leo struggled to consistently move the ball. It brings into question how much the Knights’ defense could be overlooked with many in the area talking East Noble offense and their overwhelming speed and athleticism.
“It starts with our ‘D’ line, they hold the fort down. They don’t let anybody push us back very often,” said Jones, who was in on a ton of plays defensively Friday night. “Our coaches tell us what we are supposed to read every play. They do a good job directing us throughout the week so Friday nights are a lot easier.”
Jones also made waves on the offensive end as Parker’s co-top receiver with six catches for 110 yards.
To not credit Leo for some of their gameplay changes wouldn’t be fair. Barbour, who was 13-of-16 passing in the first four games of the season, looked comfortable in the pocket throwing the ball far more than normal. He threw good balls too with most of his incompletions not comings because of a quarterback miscalculation.
Barbour completed 3 of 4 passes on just the first drive, throwing mores passes on Leo’s first possession than he threw all of last week. He finished 9-of-16 for 116 yards.
“Our defense is really underrated,” Parker said. “Our line put pressure on their quarterback and running backs, forced them to throw it down field and our DB’s covered really well. We came in prepared, our DB’s stayed prepared and read the offensive alignments.”
East Noble mostly stifled the rest of the Lions. Five seconds into the fourth quarter, Parker rolled out right to connect with Ernsberger for a third time, this one from two yards out, and the ending was a decisive one with the Knights’ place established as an area elite, putting the rest of their NE8 schedule on notice.
The defensive highlight at the end of the game came from Rowan Zolman, who intercepted Barbour’s pass with 10:53 to play. This came after Leo’s leader Wall leaving the game a couple of plays earlier with a non contact injury. The interception ended up being the final nail however as Leo didn’t threaten a score again in the game. While they did get the ball into scoring territory in the closing three minutes, East Noble’s Brooks Miller picked off a pass for the second straight week, furthering a focus on the Knight defense moving forward.
“They are getting better every week. We came into this season with five or six guys who had never played varsity football on that defense. We knew they could fly around, but can you control them? Can you get them to read their keys? Get them to do the right thing?,” Amstutz said.
“But we are getting better and better and better every. We aren’t giving up big plays; when you aren’t giving up chunk plays, you win the field position battle, you give yourself a chance at a turnover, a chance to get off the field and its what we’ve done all year.”
Parker led the Knights to 22 first downs with 14 of 20 passing for 183 yards and 15 rushes for 139 yards with four total touchdowns. Ernsberger caught six passes, three of which were touchdowns, for 56 total yards and Marcellus ran for 81 yards on 20 carries.