Alright, time to get real.
Sectionals are behind us, meaning every potential foe from here on out is deserving to be considered a state title contender.
Which area teams have a chance to survive at least one more week? Which are facing uphill battles heading into Friday?
Outside the Huddle has you covered this week, breaking down each local regional matchup.
Next up, Class 4A.
1. NEW TERRITORY
East Noble has not played for a regional title since 2003, which is also the last time the Knights advanced to semistate.
So Friday will be an unfamiliar experience for the players on the field and the coaches on the sideline, at least to how it relates to being a part of East Noble football.
Does it matter? We think not. The Knights have played with a swagger all season long, but it is a composed and confident squad that refuses to look ahead to the next week.
Coach Luke Amstutz will preach that this is just another game, but one with much higher stakes.
2. THE MISSISSINEWA RUN GAME
Heisman Skeens graduated a year ago, yet the Mississinewa rushing attack continues to put up massive numbers.
Skeens finished his career 17th on the state’s all-time rushing list, but his replacements have been just as adept. Senior Cade Campbell has rushed for 1,546 yards and 12 touchdowns, while younger brother Carson sits at 889 yards rushing and 16 scores.
All told, Mississinewa has rushed for 3,520 yards and 56(!) touchdowns this season.
With Coach Curt Funk utilizing various plays with H-backs and slots, it can be difficult to discern where quarterback Ethan Bennett is going with the ball in the run game.
3. BAILEY PARKER
Conversely, Mississinewa has to worry about Bailey Parker, the two-way stud who has thrown for nearly four times as many yards as the Indians have this season (2,550 to 699).
The fact that Parker is also a 1,000-yard rusher shows just how dangerous he is both on the run and throwing the ball. He is responsible for 52 offensive touchdowns this season and averages nearly 300 total yards a game.
Do the Indians have anything defensively they can throw at Parker that he and the East Noble offense hasn’t seen already?
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB BAILEY PARKER, SENIOR, EAST NOBLE
Let’s just start here. Parker has not gone for less than 244 total yards in a game this season. That 244-yard effort was in a 56-7 drubbing of Bellmont, meaning the foot was taken off the pedal offensively.
Parker can win a game on his own. Unfortunately for Mississinewa, he has plenty of help.
DT/OLB JAHEIM JOHNSON, SENIOR, MISSISSINEWA
He may not look like much size-wise at 6-foot, 185 pounds, but Johnson is a wrecking ball up front for the Indians.
Johnson leads the team in both tackles for loss (13) and sacks (six). With his tackling prowess, don’t be surprised if Johnson is used as a spy on Parker on some plays.
LB COLE SHUPBACH, JUNIOR, EAST NOBLE
With so many different schemes and stunts within the Mississinewa rushing attack, the linebackers of East Noble are going to have to diagnose where the ball is going quickly and step up to make plays.
Shupbach has been that guy at the second level of the Knights’ defense all year, amassing 120 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks.
RB CADE CAMPBELL, SENIOR, MISSSISSINEWA
Last week in a victory over Marion, Campbell rushed for 310 yards on 47 CARRIES.
Needless to say, the Indians lean heavily on the senior in its offense.
KEYS TO VICTORY – EAST NOBLE
1. MAKE MISSISSINEWA PASS
East Noble has done well this year against run-heavy teams, slowing down the likes of Peyton Wall for Leo and the duo of Landon Miller and Tanner Day at DeKalb. But Friday could be the Knights’ biggest test yet on the ground.
Mississinewa has only attempted 80 passes as a team all year, throwing just four touchdown passes against two INTs. It is not a team that is going to beat you if it is forced to go to the air on the regular.
2. KEEP PARKER UPRIGHT
Bailey Parker is capable of making any defense pay with his skill set. The key is allowing Parker the time to make decisions and react.
No team that East Noble has played thus far has been able to “rattle the cages” so to speak Parker in the offensive backfield.
As long as the Knights’ offensive line does not allow Mississinewa to do that on Friday, you have to like their chances.
KEYS TO VICTORY – MISSISSINEWA
1. RUN, RUN, RUN
That rushing attack that has put up 3,500 yards and 56 touchdowns? It needs to show out once again on its home field.
The problem with one-dimensional teams is that eventually they run up against a squad that can take away the strength. Eastbrook did that earlier this season in a 21-14 win over the Indians, holding Cade Campbell to 36 yards on 15 carries.
Can East Noble do the same?
2. FEED OFF THE CROWD
Mississinewa is gunning for its first regional championship since 1985. Nearly all of Gas City will be on hand to watch the Indians try to end that streak on Friday.
The crowd will be fired up and the players will feed off of that early in the game. If the Indians can get a few early scores or big plays, they should continue to gain momentum, enough to perhaps lead them to an upset win.