BLITZ’S BREAKDOWN: Class 4A Sectional 19

Leo’s Ethan Crawford takes a handoff from Jackson Barbour during a September 11 game at New Haven.

What better way to prepare for the start of sectional play than have Blitz break it all down for you?

All this week, Outside the Huddle will look at every area sectional in Classes 1A through 4A and preview what is on tap beginning this Friday.

We continue with Class 4A and Sectional 19.

THE FAVORITE

LEO (8-1)

In Week 2, the Lions surrendered 34 points to Mooresville, a team that is entering the playoffs No. 3 in Class 4A, in a 17-point loss.

In its eight victories on the year, Leo has allowed 28 points COMBINED.

That is what the other teams in this sectional will have to deal with – a suffocating defense that has been able to shut down the best offenses the NE8 has to offer.

Leo is also highly proficient in running the football, while also showing a talent for going vertical with Jackson Barbour if need be.

THE CONTENDERS

EAST NOBLE (6-3)

A three-game stretch mid-season put a scare into the East Noble faithful, but the Knights have rebounded admirably with three straight victories entering the postseason.

As healthy as they have been in weeks, Coach Luke Amstutz’s team is not spectacular on either side of the ball, but solid enough to pose a threat to anyone in this sectional field.

The key for East Noble may be just how well its defense plays, particularly when it comes to defending the pass.

NORTHRIDGE (6-2)

A near-mirror image of Leo, the Raiders like to establish the run game and defend to win games.

While losses to Mishawaka and Warsaw stand out, Northridge is still a strong contender in this sectional, particularly if it is able to establish that running attack that averages 228 yards per contest.

THE REST

ANGOLA (5-2)

Pardon Blitz for not considering the Hornets a contender, but in two major tests this year – Fairfield and Eastside – the squad struggled to perform in both.

What is missing from this team that Blitz saw in years past is the immense amount of physicality displayed. When Angola had back-to-back winning seasons in 2017-18, it was manhandling foes in the trenches. That hasn’t been the case this year.

However, Angola is not to be taken lightly, as quarterback Tucker Hasselman and that offense is averaging over 37 points per game.

COLUMBIA CITY (6-3)

A six-win team not considered a contender?

Unfortunately, that is just how Blitz is leaning when it comes to the Eagles, who started with six straight victories but have dropped three straight entering the playoffs.

While Coach Brett Fox’s team has been competitive against the likes of East Noble, Leo and Norwell, the offense struggled to find any traction against East Noble and Leo.

Considering Columbia City opens with the Knights on the road, plus Leo looming on the bottom part of the bracket, Blitz just isn’t buying the Eagles winning their first sectional title in 27 years.

DEKALB (1-5)

This has not been the year that first-year coach Seth Wilcox was hoping for. Between Covid and the loss of a lot of playmakers from a year ago, the Barons have gone from NE8 darlings to a program in transition.

That does not bode well for the playoffs as DeKalb opens at Angola, a team that beat the Barons 55-18 in Week 1.

NORTHWOOD (3-3)

Coach Nate Andrews and the Panthers have been a consistent contender in sectionals for years, although this year has been a bit rough with just three wins.

However, look past NorthWood at your own risk. Its losses have come to East Noble (by a point), Northridge (by seven) and Mishawaka.

The Panthers have a balanced running attack that could pose issues for a team that has difficulty containing the run game. But the firepower just isn’t there for NorthWood to get through this field unscathed.

WAWASEE (3-6)

Prior to knocking off one-win Goshen in Week 9, Wawasee had stumbled to six straight losses after a 2-0 start.

Unfortunately, the very team the Warriors drew for Round 1, NorthWood, crushed them 39-0 in the regular season.

So, there’s that.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

RYLAN CRAWFORD, JUNIOR, LEO

While the Lions are going to lean heavily on the running game offensively, Leo will not win this sectional without making some big plays in the pass game.

Enter Crawford, a 6-foot-3 wide-ranging wideout who is as sure handed as they come. He has come up with big grabs this season as Jackson Barbour’s favorite downfield target. Look for him to work the sidelines on passing downs, as he is adept at finding the first down marker and making sure he is going to move the chains on a reception.

ROWAN ZOLMAN, JUNIOR, EAST NOBLE

There may be no single player that means more to a team in this sectional than Zolman. Despite missing four games, the junior leads East Noble in interceptions with five from his safety spot and is a big play waiting to happen offensively.

Zolman is averaging close to 16 yards per reception and also has five touchdowns to go with it. Whether it is on defense or offense, the two-way stud affects the game.

TRENT JENSEN, JUNIOR, NORTHRIDGE

To beat Leo, Northridge is going to have to halt the run. To do that, it will need a big game up front from Jensen, a defensive tackle who leads the team in tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (three).

While Jensen getting penetration will be pivotal, he can also make a difference by just gobbling up blockers and freeing up linebackers to pursue. Leo has been able to stretch out plays and turn the corner all year long. Can Jensen be Step 1 in making sure that can’t happen?

GREG BOLT, JUNIOR, COLUMBIA CITY

The quarterback was admittedly off in Week 7 and 8 in a pair of losses. He threw six combined INTs without a touchdown pass in losses to East Noble and Leo.

But Bolt rebounded in Week 9 against a good Norwell defense, surpassing 300 yards through the air and connecting for four passing TDs. If that type of play continues, with the confidence Bolt brings as well, Columbia City could surprise even Blitz in this sectional.

These opinions represent those of Blitz and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Blitz on Twitter at Blitz_OTH

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