Leo’s 32-29 Sectional win at East Noble on Friday put them in a situation where, let’s face it, nearly everyone outside of their program questioned whether they’d be able to succeed in.
One minute, 49 seconds and 70 yard to the end zone; down three points.
Sure the run game had been a monster all year, it had been a monster all night. But now you needed bigger, more guaranteed chunks of yardage. That meant it was time to really see what senior quarterback Jackson Barbour was made of.
The plays were clearly in Leo’s arsenal. They used them often when AJ Restivo was under center in the years prior to Barbour taking the reigns at QB. But coming into Friday night, Barbour had only thrown 11 passes in nine weeks this season. Again most, if not all, outside of the program didn’t know if he could do it.
“Now they do. Now they do,” Leo coach Jared Sauder told me after the game, grinning ear to ear.
Barbour could barely contain himself in the moments after he connected with Kaeden Miller on a quick out route for the go ahead touchdown with 4.9 seconds left. One of those once in a lifetime moments, ya know? Even after the game when the clock hit zeros with the lead still intact, Barbour was nearly speechless trying to wrap his brain around the previous 109 seconds.
“That’s what I do,” Barbour exclaimed postgame, still overcome with a whole truckload of emotions. “I owe it all to people who support me. I said, once I get a chance, I’m going to make myself shine.”
The touchdown was huge as Leo, who remains unbeaten on the season, toppled their greatest rival and got the monkey off their back of two straight Sectional round losses to the Knights in previous seasons. As huge was the play that led to the score, a ball that bounced and bobbled what felt like 87 times before it was pulled in by Miller at the four yard line with 9.2 seconds left. But that drive to even get there, is was masterful given the circumstances. And Blitz doesn’t feel bad about using that word at all.
Barbour and Leo picked their spots on the drive, hitting open men including a great catch by Rylan Crawford. With East Noble clearly wanting to stop a deep ball, the Lions put four wide and just methodically hit their targets and used their three timeouts effectively to move up field piece by piece. It was a near two minute drill executed about as good as you could execute one. In the end, Barbour finished the game 8 of 10 passing for 77 yards.
“It feels good, anytime you beat a quality program like that in a great game like this, it certainly is something special,” Sauder said. “I’m kind of speechless right now. A lot of emotions up and down through that but I can’t say enough about our kids and our seniors; kids stepping up. I can’t talk enough about how proud I am of them.”
“We just had to take care of business. The pressure was high, that’s obvious but we just played our game. We practice spread, two minutes just because of these situations. We just had to get the job done,” Barbour said.
What got the entire game to that moment was something that left everyone in awe. Both teams battled, both teams looked down and popped back up.
Leo did what Leo does. They ran, they plowed through and took their time on scoring drives. Mason Sheron had another huge game, running 22 times for 137 yards while Carson Hoeppner added 13 carries for 101 yards. East Noble, kind of not in contrast, took their time too. Their first score, a Kainon Carico run, was the 16th play of the drive and their second score before the half, a Nick Munson run, came on the 10th play of that drive. For a while, it looked like the Knights could maybe out-Leo the Lions themselves.
Shortly before the half, Leo went to the air for the first time when Sheron hauled in a great catch over the top from Barbour that kept an important Leo drive alive. The Lions went on to score with four seconds left in the half on a Hoeppner two yard carry and send the game to the locker room tied at 14. That buzzer beater moment was only a setup for the one that came at the end of the game.
The teams traded the lead down the stretch, you know like that stereotypical heavyweight fight, just exchanging blows. 27 total points were scored in the final 6:11 of the game. First Carico gave East Noble the one point lead, then Barbour ran in a touchdown. With the Knights needing something electric on a near two minute drill of their own, Zander Brazel threw a screen pass to Rowan Zolman, who slipped around a great Munson block and turned on the jets. Zolman burned the Leo defenders for 61 yards for a touchdown with 1:55 left that stunned both sidelines.
What happened after that 1:55, well it will become something of Leo Lion lore. And it topped off what the social media minded fans were calling the best fourth quarter they’ve seen in high school football in a long time, if not ever.
I’m down with that. It was historic and sometimes that isn’t overdoing it; sometimes it is ok to say something so bold.
East Noble was bold. Leo was bold. Barbour was bold.
“It was just a case of, at the end of the game, saying go get it. And that is a senior, that is a veteran who just decided he was going to go get it done,” Sauder concluded of Barbour. “We talked about that, some people are going to have to make plays in this game and Jackson did.”
“It means the world,” Barbour added. “There was no chance we were coming off this field with a loss.”
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