1. THE NE8 TITLE
While things won’t be officially wrapped up in the NE8 until the last week of the season, this game can make a big impact on what combination of Leo, Columbia City and Norwell can claim a slice (or all) of the league.
With a Leo win, the Lions (5-0 in NE8) stay perfect and Columbia City (4-1 NE8) would drop to two conference losses and out of the first-place race.
Should Columbia City win, there would be three teams with one loss in the NE8 and Leo likely still shares the title with a win against DeKalb in Week 9 while Columbia City and Norwell play for a share of the title.
This week doesn’t give us an official champion, but it goes a long way to clarity at the top.
2. DEFENSE WINS
Leo is No. 15 in the state in defensive average, giving up just 7.86 points per game and a season total of 55 points, with 34 of those coming in its lone loss to Mooresville.
The Lions are stoppers with four shutouts but they have not posted back-to-back shutouts this season, coming off a 21-0 win over Huntington North last week.
Columbia City is averaging 30.9 points per game offensively and last week’s 10 points was its season low.
Can Leo keep up their lofty defensive efforts?
3. HOME FIELD
At 4-0 on the season at home, Columbia City has yet to lose on its new home field.
Sure, it is only four games into its history, but the Eagles have had some of the best crowds in the area this year because of Whitley County’s rules on spectators not being as restrictive as most places. The fans have been active since Week 1’s win over Churubusco and that is a lot for the team to be able to feed off of at a time where school pride is at an all-time high.
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
CARSON McCAULEY, LEO
There have been a few times this season where the Lions have gotten within 20 yards of a score and opted on fourth down to push for a first or a touchdown.
But let us not forget that they are not trying to avoid the kicking game. McCauley is arguably the best kicker in the area and if Columbia City’s “red zone” defense is on and slowing Leo when it matters, McCauley’s leg could be a major difference maker as he is going to be able to hit field goals that not many others could.
LANDIN MARKINS, COLUMBIA CITY
Markins is a major part of this team’s defensive leadership and that sometimes get lost. He is the third-best defensive player in the way of tackles, but he leads Columbia City with 16 tackles for loss.
Markins is going to have to work hard and fast to get into the backfield with how Leo’s offense operates, but he has the best chance of any Eagle to consistently stifle the Lions before they can chew up yardage on the ground.
ETHAN CRAWFORD, LEO
Everyone is aware that Leo is going to run the ball and try and break through the line. Kaeden Miller has been the head of that beast, but some of Leo’s most clinical games come when there is diversity in its run game. Ethan Crawford has been just as valuable and led the team with 7.9 yards per carry and 79 rushing yards last week. Leo needs to stay as diverse as it can, making Crawford crucial.
RYAN ELSTEN, COLUMBIA CITY
Despite a loss last week, Elsten was a monster in stopping both the run and pass against East Noble. Elsten had 14 solo tackles and an interception in that effort. He is getting to the ball quickly and at a high rate of success right now, so watch for him to be all over where Leo moves the ball. Elsten is currently No. 2 on Columbia City with 48 tackles this season.
KEYS TO VICTORY – LEO
1. STAY THE COURSE
Running got you here, keep doing it.
Kaeden Miller, Ethan Crawford, Carson Hoeppner, Max Loeffler, Jackson Barbour, Kam Zeisloft, Dallen Wirtz; you name an offensive skill player and Leo has used them in some combination for its run game.
Last week, three different players rushed for 70-plus yards, something Leo has done on multiple occasions in 2020. Until someone can stop this run game in the NE8, there is no reason to not focus your effort on breaking down defenses on the ground.
2. DON’T BITE ON DEFENSE
Greg Bolt can be tricky. The Columbia City quarterback also leads the Eagles in rushing yards with 84.7 per game and two games of over 100 yards rushing.
Leo will need to read Bolt’s movement well to see if he is going to take off once he gets out of the pocket or if he is using his improved movement to find some of his speedy receivers. Don’t think for a second that Columbia City isn’t diverse in its offense, so you can’t try to zone in on only one facet.
KEYS TO VICTORY – COLUMBIA CITY
1. SLOW THE RUN
Easier said than done, right? This is the goal for everyone that faces off with Leo. You cannot allow Coach Jared Sauder’s team to chew off three, four, five yards per play as so many teams have. If Leo can chew the clock and not allow Columbia City on the field, that is a big problem.
Columbia City has to be able to stop the inside runs, something East Noble couldn’t do a few weeks ago against the Lions. Forcing Leo into some 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations will force Leo to the pass. That slows its usual momentum and forcing the passing game could help keep the clock from running down.
Leo is capable of running 10-12 minutes at a time off the clock if it can get their few yards per play as it has become accustomed to.
2. BLOCK FOR BOLT
The Eagles, as mentioned, have a lot of weapons. Greg Bolt is a major part of getting guys like TJ Bedwell, Hunter Herron and Abe Barrera involved.
The offensive line for Columbia City needs to be on point for this one and protect Bolt at all costs. Last week, East Noble was able to rush Bolt a little bit, limiting his time to make important decisions. This week, the big, strong Leo defense is going to look to do the same with defensive backs that will be ready to pick off any mistakes or rushes.
There probably isn’t a bigger game or bigger challenge for the Columbia City offensive line than Leo.