Offensively, it was a no brainer for Leo, chew up clock and move the ball little by little. That is how you contend with a fast, at times high octane offense like New Haven has: by limiting their time of possession. The Lions ran the the ball for the first seven minutes and 38 seconds of the opening quarter, flexing how powerful their offensive line and run game can be.
That drive ended half a yard short of the endzone. But costly New Haven mistakes, including a first quarter fumble from Jakar Williams, helped Leo get many more chances. The Lions used them well to prevail 35-8 on Friday night in a crucial Northeast 8 showdown.
“You have to have a lot of respect for them. They gave us a dogfight and we capitalized on some plays,” Leo junior Landen Livingston said. “We got things to work on defense. We are not perfect but our goal is to be perfect and we are going to shoot for that.”
When Livingston emerged from the pile on that Leo fumble recovery with 2:03 left in the first quarter and let out a war cry toward the sidelines, the tone had already been set and momentum was on Leo’s side until the closing minute of the first half. Two plays after Livingston’s recovery, Kaeden Miller scampered into the endzone from a yard out to push the Lion lead to 14-0.
That was the second Miller touchdown; the first coming the play before the fumble when he broke off for 36 yards and outraced every Bulldog to the endzone on what was, at that point, the longest play for either team by a significant margin.
Max Hamrick ended the opening quarter with an interception; the second of four Leo takeaways on the night.
Both teams threatened in the second quarter, including Williams leading New Haven on an efficient one minute drive to end the half. That drive stalled on the Leo 22-yard line with an incomplete shot at the endzone as time expired.
Miller was far from finished when the second half got going. While he finished the game with 134 yards rushing on 19 attempts and three scores on the ground, perhaps his best play came on a third quarter highlight. After a botched catch on a Leo punt return by his teammate, Miller scooped the ball up at his own 17 yard line and hit seams with explosive bursts to return the punt 83 yards and push Leo ahead 21-0.
“He has done just an outstanding job so far. Early on he was rolling. Those guys up front are pretty good too, they give him a little bit of support. He’s played receiver of his career so this is a jump for him to play in a tailback position in a power running game,” Sauder said of Miller. “I can’t say enough about what he’s been able to do.”
New Haven found their lone score in the closing moments of the third quarter when Williams rumbled up the right sideline for a 12 yard touchdown but they never found comfortable footing again. When the Bulldogs forced Leo to punt from deep in their own territory with 7:09 left in the game, Carson McCauley went ahead and punted the ball to pin New Haven at their own one yard line. The 71 yard punt marked a school record for Leo. Just over a minute later, Rylan Crawford stepped in front of a Williams pass for an interception that he ran back 45 yards untouched for a Leo score that essentially sealed the game.
“One of our goals is to play great defense and have great special teams every week. So far this year, those two units are just doing an outstanding job,” Sauder said. “The kids are buying in…we know we want to hang out hat on defense and you see the result.”
Leo did eventually really wrap things up with more fireworks. With 5:23 left in the game, Hamrick tipped a New Haven pass up in the air and Livingston eyed the ball in the air before coming away with the pick, the first of his career and his second takeaway of the game.
“I always told my dad and my teammates I could be a tight end,” Livingston joked. “It is a lineman’s dream for that to happen so I am grateful to have the opportunity for that to happen.”
Miller added one more score for Leo by bulling his way into the end zone, even taking a New Haven defender with him with 3:51 left.
“Credit to New Haven, they were able to make some adjustments to us so we have some work to do there on the offensive side of the ball to get to where we can make adjustments to what the defense is doing,” Sauder said. “But I can’t say enough about [Miller’s] effort and the O-line and everything they are doing right now.”