Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, and with it a single team from northeast Indiana set to compete for a state championship – East Noble.
For the first time since 2003, the Knights will take the field just a single victory away from a state crown.
What to expect on Saturday? Outside the Huddle breaks down the 4A state title game between the Knights (14-0) and Evansville Memorial (12-1) set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.
1. THE BIG STAGE
East Noble put in a solid day of practice at Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday to prep for this weekend’s game. Coach Luke Amstutz said earlier this week that his team was loose and focused on their trip to Indy and hopes that remains the case when they hit the field again.
Fans will number in the thousands for East Noble against Evansville Memorial, which will surely add to the hype and the pressure.
2. BACK FOR MORE
If East Noble are the rookies to state, then Evansville Memorial is the seasoned power.
For the third straight year, the Tigers are appearing at Lucas Oil Stadium with a championship on the line. Last Thanksgiving, Memorial fell to West Lafayette 47-42 in a classic contest. One year prior, Coach John Hurley’s squad knocked off Brebeuf Jesuit 29-17 to win 3A.
The Tigers were bumped to 4A due to Success Factor, but that has not stopped them from rolling through the postseason again. Does experience give them the edge?
3. BAILEY PARKER
Parker struggled with a pair of interceptions and a fumble in the first half last week against Hobart, but once again was the best player on the field and finished with a flurry, amassing 265 yards passing and another 104 on the ground.
We have repeated it in recent weeks, but it bears mentioning again – Evansville Memorial must corral Parker and not allow him to run wild.
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB/DB BAILEY PARKER, SENIOR, EAST NOBLE
The senior sensation sits at 4,318 total yards and 57 touchdowns on the year. Out of the read option, Parker is as dangerous as they come in pulling the handoff and heading downfield. In four- and five-wide sets, Parker is strong at throwing downfield or underneath.
To top it off, Parker has five INTs and eight passes defensed on defense.
DL BROCK COMBS, SENIOR, EVANSVILLE MEMORIAL
Combs is a dynamic lineman that has the capability of disrupting East Noble’s offense in a variety of ways. He can penetrate the backfield, evidenced by his 33.5 tackles for loss and 77 tackles.
Combs with his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame will also be a problem in trying to spring Justin Marcellus in the run game.
WR NICK MUNSON, SOPHOMORE, EAST NOBLE
The Knights have Hayden Jones and Gage Ernsberger leading them in the passing game downfield, but Munson is often the forgotten receiver that makes defenses pay underneath.
The sophomore had a season-high nine receptions against Hobart last week. While has has just three touchdown receptions on the year, he is difficult to contain when matched up with a linebacker.
QB COLTON PENCE, JUNIOR, EVANSVILLE MEMORIAL
The quarterback of the Tigers doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of Parker, but he is capable of making some plays with both his arm and his legs.
The junior has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns while rushing for 220 yards, with 49 of those yards coming last win in the victory over Mt. Vernon.
KEYS TO VICTORY – EVANSVILLE MEMORIAL
1. DISRUPT EAST NOBLE UP FRONT
The unsung heroes of East Noble have been those offensive linemen, protecting Parker and opening holes all season long.
Are Combs and line mate Logan Johnson capable of getting a consistent push up front and getting into the backfield on the regular?
2. LIMIT EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
East Noble thrives on chunk plays that move it down the field quickly. The Knights have so many weapons offensively that it is tough for defenses to keep them in check for a long period of time.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the Tigers will be the vertical passing game downfield. If Parker is given time, can Memorial shut down East Noble’s wideouts?
KEYS TO VICTORY – EAST NOBLE
1. BALL PROTECTION
Last week against Hobart, the Knights turned the ball over five times, yet somehow overcame those issues and earned a victory.
East Noble is playing with fire if it thinks it can be as careless with the football this week and expect to beat Memorial. It must avoid interceptions and fumbles and not give Memorial short fields and blow its own opportunities in Tigers territory.
2. LET BAILEY BE BAILEY
Look for plenty of read option out of East Noble and Bailey Parker on Saturday afternoon. It will be strength on strength as Memorial’s defensive line is pretty stout and will no doubt have a plan to try and take it away.
Will Parker have room to run? Will Justin Marcellus steal the show on the give as the defense keys on Parker?
The Tigers are unique in that they aren’t a dominant team in any one facet of the game. They have a solid passing game, are decent on the ground and have a defense that can get stops but not overwhelm you.
In other words, it is difficult for Blitz to see just where Memorial has the clear edge on East Noble. Perhaps a solid defensive line will be a problem, or maybe the Knights make some uncharacteristic mistakes like they did in the first quarter against Hobart last week.
Or maybe, the best team in this matchup wins, which in Blitz’s mind is clearly East Noble.
This one is close for awhile, but the Knights win in convincing fashion and capture their second-ever state championship.
BLITZ SAYS EAST NOBLE BY 15.