And then there were three.
A trio of northeast Indiana teams will take to the field this Friday just one victory away from playing for a state championship on Thanksgiving weekend.
Outside the Huddle is breaking down each of the semistate showdowns, with Blitz making his pick as well.
Let’s look at Class 4A.
1. BAILEY PARKER
Every team that plays East Noble has a single goal on defense – slow down Bailey Parker. So far this year, it hasn’t happened yet. Parker torched Mississinewa in the second half last week as the Knights (13-0) won going away in Gas City.
This week, it is Hobart’s turn to try and take down the senior that has accounted for 3,949 total yards and 55 touchdowns this season.
2. HOBART DEFENSE
Following losses to Chesterton and Merrillville to begin the season, Hobart has won 11 straight games while allowing just four teams to score in double digits.
The most impressive performance was last against New Prairie, a team that entered regional averaging over 40 points per game. The Brickies held New Prairie (which entered the game 11-1) to just a single touchdown in a 37-6 rout.
Will Hobart succeed where others have failed in terms of corralling Parker?
3. KENDALLVILLE CHAOS
The last time East Noble hosted a semistate, the Knights beat Bishop Dwenger 42-28 to advance to the 4A state championship.
To say that the pre-game tailgates and in-game excitement will be at a fever pitch on Friday is an understatement.
Does East Noble feed off that energy in a positive way? It has done so all year, but there is a lot on the line coming up Friday.
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB DJ LIPKE, SENIOR, HOBART
After carrying the ball just 55 times as a junior, Lipke has blown up for the Brickies this season. He enters Friday’s game having rushed for 1,508 yards and 27 touchdowns through 13 games, including rushing for an even 200 yards last week.
Lipke doesn’t fit the stereotype of a top high school running back, evidenced by the fact that he also is a top golfer for Hobart.
QB/DB BAILEY PARKER, SENIOR, EAST NOBLE
If you haven’t seen Parker play yet this season, do yourself a favor and get to Kendallville this Friday. He can throw it, he can run and he is arguably one of the best defensive backs in the northern half of the state.
He has nearly 4,000 total yards on the year to go with 55 touchdowns. He is legit and has yet to be stopped in a game this season.
LB BOBBY BABCOCK, JUNIOR, HOBART
The junior was as disruptive as they come last week against New Prairie, forcing a fumble that resulted in a touchdown and tipping a pass for an interception in the Hobart rout.
It was just more of the same for the linebacker that enters Friday’s game with 58 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
DL LEYTH AL-MOHAMMEDAWI, SENIOR, EAST NOBLE
Clogging up the middle all season long for the Knights has been Al-Mohammedawi, who at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds stands out on the field with both his stature and his abilities.
As Hobart attempts to establish the run on Friday, the East Noble defensive front seven will need to be on its game. That starts with Al-Mohammedawi, who has 66 tackles, 13 TFL and three sacks on the year.
KEYS TO VICTORY – HOBART
1. CONTAIN PARKER
It really is that simple…but it isn’t. Parker has gone for 244 or more total yards in every game this season. He is not the sole offensive threat for East Noble, but he opens up opportunities in the run game for 1,000-yard rusher Justin Marcellus.
Hobart has played some solid quarterbacks, but arguably none with the dual-threat ability that Parker has. If he was four inches taller, he is a legit Division I quarterback prospect.
2. BLOCK OUT THE NOISE
Kendallville can be an intimidating place to play with the electric atmosphere that will surely be on display come Friday night. Hobart has gotten this far, thus it shouldn’t be shook in a hostile environment.
The Brickies need to play composed and focused from the opening kickoff. East Noble is going to be ready to go on its home field. East Noble thrives on getting opponents down a few scores early then keeping the foot on the throttle. Hobart is doomed if that happens.
KEYS TO VICTORY – EAST NOBLE
1. ADJUST ON THE FLY
Last week, the Knights did a great job of using the first half as kind of a feeling-out process of Mississinewa, then taking away what the Indians were trying to do, particularly after halftime.
Coach Luke Amstutz was so confident that his defense could hold Mississinewa that he went for it on 4th and medium at East Noble’s own 39 yard line.
Hobart may show some different looks to the Knights early on in an attempt to catch them off balance. Can East Noble make quick changes if need be?
Again, he is the key. As Parker goes, so does East Noble. It really shouldn’t be this cut and dry, but it is true. If a defense can shut down Parker and what he does in both the run and pass game, could the Knights win? We haven’t had to answer that question because it hasn’t happened yet.
Blitz and the Outside the Huddle crew are headed to Kendallville as East Noble tries to win its first semistate title 16 years. Hobart is a solid team with a lot of good wins, but it is tough to envision the Brickies coming in and knocking off the Knights on their home field.
This game will come down to the play of two guys – Bailey Parker and DJ Lipke. The Brickies need Lipke to be a stud and lead an offense that is built to work the passing game off of the success of the run.
Meanwhile, Parker just needs to be him, although Hobart will do its best to try and bottle him up. Can the Brickies do what no one else has been able to do yet? Blitz says no.
BLITZ SAYS EAST NOBLE BY 6.