And here we go. The trash talking started weeks ago on the Twitter machine and it won’t stop until….well, ever.
Leo and East Noble once again are the class of the Northeast 8 Conference and while a title won’t officially be decided this week, we’ve known from the beginning that this is the game to watch and the one where the winner takes a big step toward a conference crown.
It really doesn’t matter what other games are on the slate in the area this week, this is the one and only.
THE MAJOR PLAYERS
KAEDEN MILLER, LEO
The Lions have just run wild on their first four opponents and they’ve done it with misdirection and depth. So you could name any of Miller, Ethan Crawford, Mason Sheron and Carson Hoeppner as a major player here. But there is just a feeling that this could be a Miller week.
The Lions can grind it out, although each of those listed above have some big-yardage plays to their names already. Miller’s speed though is something that has always separated him. Look for him to get the ball in a pile of heavies up front, but if he can slide his body through the line, he’s gone and catching him is going to be a real issue. Miller is a top-tier weapon even when he isn’t the top yardage back, capable of going the distance every time he touches the ball.
BRYCE CHARLES, EAST NOBLE
Leading the Knights in tackles with 31, Charles has been one of the breakout stars of the NE8 this season. He is quick off the block and hard charging. Everyone knows what to expect out of Leo, but nobody has been able to stop it yet. Charles is critical in not only getting to the ball, but also making the right reads. He is a heady lineman that has good instincts, so he has to have his head up and truly dissect Leo’s “confuse the defense” running game of fakes and counters. If Charles gets at you, he is going to hit you good, so Leo will be looking to avoid him at all costs.
RYLAN CRAWFORD, LEO
There haven’t been many moments Leo’s defensive backs have been tested as the schedule has been dominated by run-heavy offenses so far. That said, Crawford is a lock-down guy who can really hamper any momentum a receiver hopes to make.
This shouldn’t be brain surgery, Crawford is likely getting the Rowan Zolman assignment. He brings a long, athletic frame that makes plays, so him matching up against arguably the NE8’s best receiver makes a lot of sense. Crawford has not yet feasted this year defensively like he did last year, so expect him to be very hungry to make a play anytime the Knights toss the ball in his direction.
ROWAN ZOLMAN, EAST NOBLE
See above. One of the best, if not THE best, WR v. DB matchup of the season comes with Zolman and Crawford. While East Noble is strong at spreading the ball around (six different receivers this year for 589 yards), there is no hiding that Zolman is the preferred target. He is big and he is a playmaker, leading the team with 206 receiving yards at 29.4 yards per catch. Those are gigantic numbers and he is going to look to make a statement on the offensive end against a stout Leo defense that just doesn’t give up that kind of yardage. Zolman also has 23 tackles and an interception, but don’t expect Leo to throw the ball his way much.
HOW LEO WINS
Defense wins championships right? Leo has not given up many scores this year that aren’t garbage-time scores. That means its defense has been showing up in a major way. DJ Allen and Mason Sheron are two of the scariest guys in the area to have coming at you if you have the ball in your hands. Allen has been a machine, getting to the quarterback and forcing fumbles, he has been a ball hawk in 2021. In the defensive backfield, we know that Crawford is efficient but Logan Barnett has been there to play equal to him. So how does Leo win? Just play big physical and aggressive but also understand the way to pace yourself. Leo’s first team hasn’t had to play every second of a game yet this year, but they shouldn’t expect to get a lot of breaks on Friday.
Senior Jon Moore has led this defense kind of on the downlow and last Friday in the win over New Haven, it was Alex Holcomb taking the lead with seven tackles while Allen had five and a pair of sacks. Leo needs to play heavy handed and force East Noble to make errors – the Knights have two interceptions and 3 fumbles that they recovered themselves this season – and then take advantage when/if the turnovers come to fruition.
HOW EAST NOBLE WINS
Spread the ball out and task Leo with proving it can defend at almost every position. As good as Leo is, as solid as the defense has been, it has not played anyone near the level of East Noble. With three guys who can run the ball with effectiveness and four solid receivers, East Noble has depth and diversity in their offense. Is Leo’s defense dynamic enough to handle that? East Noble has to challenge them and take some chances. It is really an area where the Knights excel no matter who the opponent is. As noted previously, multiple guys can catch the ball and nine different Knights have gotten at least one carry this season.
When we talk about East Noble’s offensive diversity, it is not just the Zander Brazel or Kainon Carico show. They are high powered and we know it. It is guys like Nick Munson and Ethan Nickles, who do a little bit of everything, that make East Noble dangerous. While the focus from the outside is how Leo handles EN’s big playmakers, the Knights know that Leo has a lot more than that to try and handle.
Check back in later today for Blitz’s weekly picks!