BLITZ: Adversity has made East Noble stronger, more dangerous

East Noble’s Rowan Zolman makes his way to the sideline during an October 23 Sectional game against Columbia City.

In East Noble’s run to the Class 4A state championship game a year ago, Coach Luke Amstutz enjoyed a season largely void of key injuries and regular-season defeats.

By no means was it smooth sailing, but the Knights largely avoided the pitfalls that can derail a team over the course of the season.

But in 2020, that luck has not held. East Noble (7-3) has been ravaged by injury over the last two-plus months – from Rowan Zolman to Dalton Stinson to Kainon Carico – the Knights have had to move personnel around to try and fill holes left by injured stars.

Amstutz’s team suffered from the injuries and inexperience in key spots during a mid-season three-game losing streak, the longest skid for the Knights in 19 years.

But the adversity suffered through the course of the regular season – something that nary reared its ugly head a season ago – has paid dividends, the most recent example being a 35-7 rout of Columbia City on Friday to open Class 4A Sectional 19 play.

“When I think back on it, when I was a young coach, I would have lost my mind during those games,” said Amstutz about his team’s losing streak. “I would have freaked out, panicked, made wholesale changes. But when that stuff was going, we realized we were not a very good team yet and we were playing great competition.”

So instead of losing it and making short-sighted decisions, Amstutz played the long game with his group, having faith that the team would get better, and, just as important, healthier.

“We just showed up every day and told the guys, ‘Look, we love ya, and we are going to keep coaching you. You are going to get better and this will end, and we will be playing our best football when it matters.”

Some of Amstutz’s players were just as frustrated through six games as the Knights sat at 3-3. Perhaps the most exasperated was Rowan Zolman, who had to sit four games due to a leg injury – including all three losses.

East Noble’s Rowan Zolman intercepts a pass during an October 23 Sectional game as teammate Damien Williams helps defend Columbia City’s TJ Bedwell.

Zolman’s first game back was the first matchup against Columbia City in Week 7, a game in which he notched an interception. But on Friday, the junior was the true difference maker on both sides of the football.

Zolman hauled in three touchdown passes from Cole Schupbach – scoring from 25, 32 and 40 yards. Defensively, he picked off a pair of Greg Bolt passes and also recovered a fumble.

“It was so tough being on the sideline watching my team when I was injured,” Zolman said. “It is great to be back out here.”

In the preseason, Amstutz told everyone who would listen, including Blitz, that Zolman was one of the best players in the area regardless of position. He has proven that and more with his play this year, putting up Player of the Year-type numbers despite missing four games.

Friday night did not see much of a game between the two NE8 foes. Columbia City (6-4), without head coach Brett Fox due to Covid quarantine, was led by defensive coordinator Jeff Clark. But the Eagles did not get much time to settle in. After a punt on their initial possession, Justin Marcellus broke loose up the middle for a 55-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.

Later in the first quarter, Schupbach found Zolman for the first of their trio of scores to go up 14-0.

By halftime it was 28-0, and the rout was on.

East Noble quarterback Cole Schupbach escapes the pressure of Columbia City’s Brooks Logenbaugh during an October 23 Sectional game.

Columbia City quarterback Greg Bolt was hounded all night by the East Noble defensive front, finishing just 8-of-24 passing for 61 yards and two INTs.

While the path to the postseason has been a bit rockier than a season ago, East Noble’s status exiting Week 10 is similar. This is a squad that is playing its best football of the year at the right time.

Might it lead to a repeat trip to Lucas Oil Stadium? With this team’s mindset, anything is possible.

“My coaching staff is just incredible,” Amstutz said. “We are just showing up and having fun with the kids. At the end of the day, we may not be the best team in the state talent wise, but we are sure gonna go out and play hard.”

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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