INDIANAPOLIS – In the moments after East Noble’s 21-3 loss to Evansville Memorial in Saturday’s Class 4A state title game, Bailey Parker stood with his parents behind a giant check, answering questions while being projected onto the big screens.
He had just been named the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award winner, trying to stay composed but looking emotionally drained and physically beat up.
East Noble coach Luke Amstutz called it “the best pass defense he had ever coached against.” From where Blitz was sitting, it is tough to argue.
Evansville Memorial’s defensive front dominated the game from start to finish, but the second half in particular. As the Tigers found ways to score touchdowns, their defense was able to stymie and frustrate Parker at every opportunity.
Parker came into the game with over 4,300 yards of total offense. His season low heading into Saturday was a 244-yard effort against Bellmont in a 56-7 blowout victory. But Memorial was able to get pressure with its front four, allowing its linebackers to run free and mirror Parker wherever he went. After four quarters of punishment, Parker emerged with 140 total yards on 7-of-23 passing and a 2.7 yards per rush average to go with four interceptions.
What the Tigers do not have in size they make up for in speed. Senior Logan Johnson scares no one in the trenches at 6-foot, 185 pounds, but he was a constant presence in the backfield all afternoon on Saturday, finishing with six tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
Johnson had help and lots of it. Mason Auker was huge. Linebacker Will Brackett led the Tigers with 12 tackles. Stud Brock Combs battled injury to still amass four tackles and a tackle for loss.
But the box score does not tell the entire story. The linebackers were able to stay home because of the pressure and help take away the short passing game, as well as keep tabs on Parker in the read option. The defensive backs disguised coverages and were able to get Parker to throw into some bad situations.
The East Noble stud eventually finished the night with seven tackles and four interceptions.
“The defensive line was able to get constant pressure and the defensive backs were good at baiting me,” Parker said. “The difference in the game was turnovers.”
Memorial knew what it was up against in Parker and planned accordingly.
“We knew we had to try and contain him,” Memorial coach John Hurley said. “I said it earlier in the week how he is a throwback. He runs. He throws. He plays defense. He is just a tremendous player.
“We thought we had an edge (up front) in speed and quickness, but we were concerned about the size. We felt like we could get around them if we could get a step on them.”
The Tigers were able to beat the East Noble offensive line to flush out Parker on the regular. There was never truly a pocket for Parker to sit in and look downfield. Instead, he was constantly rolling out to buy time as he tried to make plays in the pass game. Most of the time, these resulted in incompletions or, worse, interceptions.
In the end, Parker and the Knights finally ran up against a defense that could take away the greatest weapon that northeast Indiana had in its arsenal this season. For a quarter and change last week, Hobart was able to fluster the senior quarterback, but that gave way to Parker making plays to win.
But this week was different. What Evansville Memorial did well in the first half on defense it did even better in the second half. Frequently, Parker needed help in picking himself off the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. At least once, he needed tended to on the sideline after a big hit.
There should be no debate who the area player of the year is in northeast Indiana. But Saturday, Parker and the Knights met their match.
“They are a hard-hitting team,” Parker said. “Lot of respect to them. They came out and hit us in the mouth. They were just way more physical.”
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