Let’s take a little trip away from the SAC for a week, shall we?
These two teams are at the top of the NE8 and very few people doubt that. The big question has been how large is the gap between them?
Is Norwell really a runaway favorite?
Has Leo adapted in its first two weeks under a new head coach?
So many questions, but at least we will get them answered on Friday night.
Norwell at Leo is the Outside the Huddle Game of the Week.
WHAT IS ON THE LINE
Is it too early to say the Northeast 8 Conference title?
Usually we are looking at Leo and East Noble as the big game that likely decide this conference. But this year, conventional wisdom is that these two are battling for that right. Norwell is considered one of the area’s best programs while Leo still has high expectations even with a first-year head coach.
We talk about how the SAC is still winnable with one loss. The NE8? Not so much, especially if you want to win it outright. In the seven-year history of the NE8 Conference, the champion has gone unbeaten five times: Leo (2021, 2020), East Noble (2019, 2018) and New Haven (2016). So conventional wisdom says do not lose a game, although in both 2017 and 2015, the conference saw three-way ties for the title with one-loss teams. If you look at Norwell though, you know it does not want to lose because it has finished 6-1 in the NE8 each of the last two years, second overall to Leo’s 7-0 mark.
So maybe when we considered Leo/East Noble for the conference previously, we were always wrong (big shock). The NE8 has come down to Leo versus Norwell the prior two seasons and we do not expect anything different this time.
Norwell does not have a win in this series since 2014 when it squeezed out a 14-13 victory to open the season.
That isn’t the craziest score in series history though. Just two years ago, it was Leo picking up the win on the road in Ossian, 3-2.
Leo holds the recent series advantage, winning 14 of the last 20 encounters, including a surprising 48-7 rout last season.
The loss for Norwell wasn’t surprising, but the margin of victory was. The Lions were the heavy favorites, one of the best teams in the area and senior laden. Norwell was solid, but was still dominated. Leo averaged a smidge over a first down per carry with 10 different guys running the ball. Norwell’s offense went for 313 total yards but couldn’t keep up on the scoreboard.
Outside of the 2014 win for the Knights, Leo has won every other game in this series for the past 12 years, including twice in 2011. Norwell won four of the first five games of the series between 2004 and 2009.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
BROCK SCHOTT, LEO
With five receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns last week in a win over Angola, Schott had one of the best receiving performances for a Lion in quite some time. In the preseason, Schott was raved about and we are finding out why. Leo is officially a balanced offense and Schott is not only a beneficiary, he may be the one leading the charge.
LUKE GRAFT, NORWELL
Graft has been quiet in the first two weeks, at least compared to the torrid pace he was setting in 2021 as one of the area’s best breakout players. He did run for 42 yards and have an interception last week against Heritage, but something feels like his usage rate will soar against Leo. Graft did have the most carries for Norwell last week at 11 while scoring two touchdowns.
KEYS TO THE GAME
NORWELL: RUN, RUN & THEN RUN
Forty of Norwell’s 48 plays last week against Heritage were runs. A week prior against Mississinewa, 53 of its 62 plays were on the ground. Do the math: Norwell has run 110 plays this season and 93 times they have run the football. There is an old saying about if something isn’t broke, there is no reason to fix it. The Knights are juggernauts running the football, they actually ran it fairly well last year against a stacked Leo defense. So on Friday, they are just going to run until Leo can prove it can stop them. Aside from Drew Ringger‘s 229 yards in Week 1, we haven’t seen gaudy numbers from any single Norwell rusher. The Knights just chew teams up with a multitude of guys: six in Week 1 and eight in Week 2.
LEO: THE LINE MUST COME ALIVE
Like it or not, here is a relevant stat: Leo allowed Angola to run for 324 yards last Friday, with quarterback Tyler Call cutting up for 187 of those yards. That kind of thing can’t happen this week against a Norwell team that rushed for 180 yards last season in this game when Leo’s defensive front was much bigger and much more experienced.
This game is arguably the biggest test of the season for Leo on defense. It knows what Norwell wants to do, so can the Lions slow it down?
Leo is still trying to figure itself out, but Aiden Furnish and Kamden Zeisloft have been huge for the defense, combining for 14.5 tackles last week. And they aren’t the only guys, 10 different Lions had multiple tackles in Week 2’s win over Angola so everyone will need to rise up again on Friday.
NORWELL: FORCE DECKER TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE
Kylar Decker may or may not be different than Leo quarterbacks we’ve seen recently. But he certainly has found some comfort in the first two weeks, going 21 of 32 for 280 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception. Norwell’s job is to make sure that doesn’t continue. It forced both Heritage quarterbacks into some uncomfortable positions last week with Jacob Bischoff and Collin Burns both picking up sacks in the Norwell win. Norwell has a lot of big, scary dudes rushing at the backfield and the last thing it wants is for Leo to get relaxed and find a groove.
LEO: MINIMIZE RISK
Leo has already flown around a bit, made some things happen in the process. Taking chances is something we will see a lot more under the Jason Doerffler coaching administration but that doesn’t mean Leo should stray too far from its roots. Norwell is a very disciplined team and it has shown it constantly. Would Leo rather have a 3-2 game like 2020 or get into a blow-for-blow big-scoring game? Well that isn’t exactly for us to say as much as it is for Doerffler. What we do know is that in the air, on the ground, Leo needs to be calculated. Do not get too wild or Norwell may pick apart those mistakes.
Check back for Blitz’s picks to find out!