We here at Outside the Huddle can give you a certain amount of information about a high school football team nearly four hours away, but we are perfectly comfortable admitting that we do not have all the answers regarding Evansville Memorial.
What challenges will East Noble face on Saturday afternoon? Who are the players to know for the Tigers?
Outside the Huddle caught up with Gordon Engelhardt of the Evansville Courier & Press to get some answers. Engelhardt has covered Evansville athletes for 35 years and was recently named to the Indiana Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
OTH: For people who are unfamiliar with Evansville Memorial, what is East Noble going to face on Saturday?
Gordon Engelhardt: After losing Michael Lindauer (now at U. Cincinnati) and Branson Combs (Southern Illinois), among the all-time top 10 on state passing and receiving lists and who led Memorial to the 3A state title in 2017 and second in ‘18, it’s a surprise the Tigers are making their third straight state appearance, especially after being bumped up a class to 4A. The Tigers have primarily done it with defense and have answered the skeptics as former role players have stepped up big-time.
OTH: Can you detail Evansville Memorial’s road to state? The win over Central was pretty huge…
GE: I wasn’t surprised Memorial avenged its earlier loss to No. 6 Central, but was surprised by the margin (38-14). The only major roadblock in the postseason was No. 8 Mooresville, which knocked off No. 1 East Central. Mooresville was dominating possession early, but the quarterback threw a pass directly to Memorial’s Alan Michael Stepo, who returned it 91 yards for a TD. Mooresville then lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Memorial scored on a trick play – two TDs, 12 seconds. Memorial held on for a 17-14 win in regional.
OTH: What kind of schemes does Memorial employ?
GE: I don’t really worry about technical aspects. The one thing the Tigers do is occasionally utilize a “Wildcat” offense, inserting Stepo as a running QB, usually near the goal line for a couple of plays.
OTH: We have heard a lot about Brock Combs. How would you describe his game?
GE: He is a sledgehammer, sometimes carrying five or six guys before they bring him down. The reason he doesn’t have that many yards rushing is they were saving him for the postseason because he’s an all-state defensive end with 15.5 quarterback sacks. He is amazing. One play against Mt. Vernon (Fortville) in semistate, he flattened a defensive back, was out of bounds and was still looking for someone else to hit. He’s only 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, which is why he is not getting more college looks. He did take a visit to Indiana State.
OTH: Do you think Evansville Memorial has an advantage with the experience it has on this kind of stage?
GE: No, I think East Noble is a better all-around team. But as I said, Memorial keeps silencing the skeptics, so who knows? Combs and Will Brackett are among the hardest-hitting defenders I’ve seen in HS football in years.
OTH: Who are some of the other players East Noble fans should be aware of come Saturday?
GE: Besides Stepo and Combs, hard-hitting linebacker Brackett, quarterback Colton Pence and wide receiver Finn McCool stand out. Pence was a wide receiver last year, and switched to quarterback after Lindauer’s graduation. He isn’t a super passer, but is extremely quick and can scramble out of trouble. McCool is also really quick. Dawson Hurley is more of a possession receiver.
OTH: What kind of game do you expect on Saturday afternoon?
GE: I expect a 27-24, 24-21 type game. I think East Noble will prevail. But again, Memorial keeps answering the skeptics.