And here we go with the fate of the NECC Small Division in the balance.
A few weeks back, we looked ahead to Week 8 knowing that it could decide the NECC with both teams undefeated and the high likelihood that the winner of this game would stay unbeaten and win this division.
Then Week 7 happened. Central Noble picked up its first loss and what we thought wasn’t true anymore.
That doesn’t change the impact of this game though as the Cougars visit the unbeaten Blazers on Friday. With both Central Noble (2-1) and Churubusco (3-1) sitting with one loss in the division, this game will still decide the NECC Small Division but it now comes down to this: an Eastside win means an outright NECC division title….a Central Noble win means that the Cougars, Blazers and Churubusco will all finish 3-1 in division and split the title three ways.
It isn’t as tied up as the NECC Big Division is this week but still has some interesting storylines that will be settled by the final horn on Friday night in Butler.
THE MAJOR PLAYERS
WILL HOOVER, CENTRAL NOBLE
How do you look at a guy with 966 yards, 13 touchdowns rushing and 37 tackles and figure he has taken a step backward? Well, in the past three weeks Hoover has run for just 182 yards, including a game against Fremont where he barely played. But in the first four weeks of the season, Hoover surpassed his rushing yardage from the past three weeks on three different occasions – 197 vs. West Noble, 238 vs. Woodlan and 218 vs. Fairfield. So even if Hoover, who has been nursing an injury, hasn’t been playing at that ridiculously high level, he has still been at a solid, normal one and has the clear capability to play big on any given week.
LABAN DAVIS, EASTSIDE
What can you say about Davis that hasn’t already been said? He has been an absolute monster as a senior by throwing for 1,055 yards and rushing for 1,115 as one of the top producers in the area. Davis is the biggest threat on the field on Friday because he can just flat-out burn opposing defenses. This game is about a little icing on the cake of his career in looking to add another small division title. Putting up over 300 yards of offense per game, Davis is on a tear that has been and will continue to be hard to stop.
LOGAN HAWK, CENTRAL NOBLE
When your name is Logan Hawk, you just kind of have to be a spark plug on a football field. And this Hawk has been just that for the 6-1 Cougars. Registering 66 tackles this season, Hawk is just all over the ball all of the time, whether it is attacking an opposing run or pass game. He has registered only one interception on the year as part of Central Noble’s 10 picks overall, but he returned that one 50 yards against Woodlan. Hawk is a relentless defender and one that could be very damaging for Eastside’s big offense.
CARSON JACOBS, EASTSIDE
We got to see flashes of what Jacobs could do late last season, but he has really blossomed as a junior. When targeted more than twice as a receiver, which has happened twice this season, he has produced with over 110 yards on four receptions each time against Garrett and Fremont. He has also registered 32 tackles, deflected four passes, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Jacobs isn’t a name you hear enough of with Eastside but he certainly factors in on multiple assets of the game each week.
HOW CENTRAL NOBLE WINS
Hang your hope on Hoover. That doesn’t mean that you exclusively look to the hard-charging back on offense, especially as the Cougars have expanded that ‘O’ in recent weeks and Tyler Shisler has gotten more comfortable under center. But what it means is that Will Hoover is a great guy to get in line and follow on both sides of the ball. Hoover is an impact player who has been through the wringer, who knows what it is like to be a guy that defenses target when he’s on offense and try to avoid when he’s on defense. Yet, he always seems to be making some sort of an impact. So Central Noble needs everyone to follow Hoover’s lead
Shisler is important in that for the offense, despite his 39 percent completion percentage, the last two weeks have been his two best of the season in that category. As a sophomore, it was clear that Central Noble would need to give him time for his confidence and comfort to grow and it really has despite last Friday’s setback against Churubusco. His senior receiving corps has made things a bit easier, led by Preston Diffendarfer (15 catches, 421 yards).
Defensively, the Cougars shouldn’t have much of an issue following what Hoover does. Why is that? Because there are guys who do it just as well as Hoover, who is currently sitting fifth on the team in tackles, though he did miss a little bit of time this season. This team is only giving up 13 points per game and only Churubusco has scored more than 20 points against this Cougar defense. Senior Cade Weber doesn’t get enough attention for being a ball hawk as he leads this team with three sacks and has 35 tackles (eight for loss). The defensive backfield needs to continue to find that right balance between being not too careless and not too careful with Diffendarfer and Ashton Smith both playing at a high level with six interceptions and 13 pass deflections between them.
HOW EASTSIDE WINS
Eastside needs to keep Central Noble guessing. Sure, the easy approach to mention here is that Laban Davis is a monster and he does all of the things right that probably should get the Blazers a win. But dare we say that Central Noble is one of the toughest tests that Eastside has faced all season, with a tenacious defense to boot. So why do the predictable thing and risk the Cougars figuring out an advantage in battles with Davis, if they have not already this week in practice?
We have to go all of the way back to Week 2 against Adams Central to see some of the similar traits that Central Noble will employ. That week, Davis was held to just 2.5 yards per rush on 33 carries and so Eastside had to be diverse to rally for that win. This is a similar scenario but one that Eastside should still find comfort in.
The Blazers have options and plenty of them. In that win over AC, it was Dax Holman running for 200 yards, which is just less than half of his total yards rushing all season; Briar Munsey has also shown some shine in running the ball including a pair of 40-plus yard games. Through the air, where Davis has connected on almost 69 percent of his passes, there are three guys with over 200 yards receiving on the season in Carson Jacobs (307 yards), Dylan Bredemeyer (240 yards) and Gavin Wallace (202). With those kind of offensive options, Eastside should be anything but predictable.
Check back in later today for Blitz’s weekly picks!