BLITZ: Norwell is as advertised, which is bad news for rest of NE8

Norwell running back Luke Graft celebrates after scoring a rushing touchdown during a September 2 game at Leo.

As Luke Graft broke loose and ran away from the Leo defense for an 81-yard touchdown in the third quarter on Friday (be it called back or not), it served as a symbol of sorts of the Norwell Knights in 2022.

At least as it pertains to the Northeast Eight.

We may be just a single week into league play, but Norwell is running away from the rest of the conference. Many believed that Leo – defending NE8 champs for two years running – would give the Knights perhaps their toughest test of the regular season.

Instead, Norwell forced five turnovers and handed Leo its first regular-season shutout loss since 2018 in a 27-0 rout.

While the victory itself wasn’t surprising, the manner in which it happened was. Leo is rebuilding, which is bound to happen when you graduate so much and a new head coach takes over who changes schemes. Yet the Knights made quick work of a team that still has a huge amount of potential – even with leader Ethan Crawford sidelined again with injury.

Lleyton Bailey opened the scoring with a six-yard scamper on a rollout keeper to put Norwell up midway through the first quarter.

By halftime, the Graft boys – Luke and Drew – had each added a rushing score to put the Knights in control at 21-0.

While the Lions came out in the third quarter looking to get back in the game, miscues plagued them. Kylar Decker threw three INTs, with a fourth called a pick but looked to Blitz more like a fumble after a completion. Over the course of running 58 plays, Leo gained just 111 total yards – a measly 1.9 yards per snap, including just 30 yards on 26 rushes.

Lleyton Bailey of Norwell rolls out of the pocket against Leo on September 2.

It’s a bit too early in the game to be looking at Norwell as a threat to get to the state championship game in 3A, especially with Chatard potentially lurking in the regional round. But one thing Blitz is for sure about, it’s that there is a sizable gap between the Knights and the rest of the league.

Yes, even after one game.

Look around. East Noble is young and barely escaped Huntington with a win on Friday. New Haven has looked solid but was run over by the rushing attack of Eastbrook in its lone loss, which just so happens to be Norwell’s strength offensively. Columbia City? Not buying it yet.

Coach Josh Gerber is going to preach to his team to take it one game at a time. It’s coach’s speak. It’s effective and accurate. But Norwell has the best roster and the most experience in the league. Combine that with a rebuild at one perennial NE8 contender and a youth movement at another, the Knights are poised to run away with the league before the intrigue of late-season matchups even becomes a thing.

Blitz has the luxury of looking ahead, and he sees a clash with Chatard in the playoffs. Much like Brebeuf was a year ago, Chatard will present a huge challenge for the Knights. Between now and that almost-inevitable matchup, Norwell must use every game, every practice, every rep to get ready.

As Adams Central and Eastside did last year, working the kinks out in the regular season to be ready for the playoffs is integral.

We tend to focus a lot on conference titles. Blitz himself has zeroed in on it this entire column. But it is the postseason that holds the glory – actual hardware to display at school for eternity. It is where Norwell could really do some damage if it continues to dominate like it did on Friday.

Blitz will enjoy the ride with the Knights over the next few months.

The NE8? Not so much.

Norwell’s Jon Colbert breaks a tackle after catching a pass during a September 2 game at Leo.

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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