Each Thursday, check in with us as we highlight the OTH Game of the Week.
While there are some decent options for Week 4, we head to the NE8 for a game will help define the very shape of the conference for the rest of the season.
We expect another good one with a lot of offense this Friday night.
WHAT IS ON THE LINE
Besides the bragging rights that are up for grabs when these two schools meet, there is this thing called the NE8.
Who is the best in the conference? That debate won’t end anytime soon, but three teams sit at 3-0 and the 2-1 Lions feel they have a rightful stake in being the top team too. Leo travels to East Noble next week for another big test, but first things first. Neither can really can afford to lose this one with so many more big league tests still ahead.
In the last five seasons, no team has won the NE8 title with a loss on their resume. In fact, it’s only happened twice since the league game into existence in 2015.
So this much is statistically and traditionally clear: whoever loses this game isn’t winning the NE8 title…probably.
If that isn’t enough, the bragging rights have to be.
Leo fiercely believes its the better team. To the Lion faithful, they have the better major D1 prospect in Brock Schott, the bigger playmaker in Kaden Hurst and the more punishing run game.
New Haven would bite back that Mylan Graham is two of those things. And that Bulldog run game? Well, it’s been quite powerful as well so far.
Time for someone to prove someone else wrong.
The head to heads between these two schools have not been around for very long, dating back to just before the Lions made their way to the newly-formed Northeast 8 from the ACAC. That said, the rivalry between these two purple-clad EACS teams is as fun as any in the area.
Don’t expect New Haven or Leo fans, players or social media advocates to pull any verbal punches heading into this one.
The Bulldogs lead the series 8-5 all-time, but it is Leo which has won each of the last four meetings, including last years 28-12 win, the first of the Coach Jason Doerffler era. New Haven coach Kyle Booher is 0-3 in this rivalry as a head coach and that too means the Bulldogs’ Class of 2024 is also 0-fer against the Lions.
New Haven’s last win against Leo came in 2018. The last time it won AT Leo was a 35-33 OT victory all of the way back in 2017. That was part of three-straight New Haven dubs in the series.
Since Leo joined the NE8, it does lead the series 5-3. New Haven’s four wins against Leo that have them on top of the all time series, came before they were conference mates in 2006, 2003, 2002 and 2001 and they were all Sectional tournament games. It also bares noting that in the last 5 seasons, New Haven has finished below Leo in the NE8 standings, being within one spot of the Lions just once: last season when Leo finished third to New Haven’s fourth.
So what happened in last seasons game at New Haven?
Just seven points were scored in the first half before Leo pulled away in their 28-12 win. Leo never trailed after Aidan Monds’ late first half touchdown run. He added a second half touchdown run, as did Max Loeffler, before Leo put the the icing on the cake with a pick six in the closing minute of the game. New Haven’s highlight came on their second score when Mylan Graham took a reception 90 yards to the house in the fourth quarter. Leo actually only outgained New Haven by 62 yards despite running 20 more offensive plays. Graham hauled in 6 catches for 195 yards while Leo relied on the ground game of Loeffler (140 yards) and Brett Fuller (126 yards).
Of note, because of Kaden Hurst’s leg work early in the season in 2023, Leo only accounted for 30 total yards on three kick returns in this game last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ajani Washington of New Haven really hasn’t been talked about as much this season as expected. He’s been a big cog in the Bulldogs’ march to 3-0. The athletic receiver has caught nine passes with two touchdowns in the mix. He is a big time playmaker who can really upset the balance of a game if an opponent isn’t paying enough attention to him.
Kamden Zeisloft of Leo can slide in right next to Washington here as we haven’t talked about him enough. He’s a formidable force on both sides of the ball with 2 receptions for 26 yards and 13 tackles to his name this season. Keep in mind, numbers can lie as the last two opponents haven’t presented a huge challenge for Leo like Kokomo did in week one, where Zeisloft had a team third best seven tackles.
KEY FOR NEW HAVEN:Keep feeding the run game
New Haven has ran in 11 of their 16 touchdowns. That’s alot when you consider they have two of the areas top players lined up at wide receiver. How much Tre Bates and Audreon Anderson have elevated their games has been crucial in the 3-0 New Haven start. And QB1 Donovan Williams has run for a team second best 197 yards with 10.9 yards per carry so far. Running the ball and challenging opposing front lines has worked. Will it work as good against Leo? You’ve gotta keep finding out, right?
KEY FOR LEO: Don’t sell everything on Graham
Yes, Mylan Graham can hurt you and yes he can hurt you bad. In fact, he hurt Leo bad last season but who won the game? Graham is terrific and he’s going to be a big target that will do Mylan Graham things. But, despite his 19 catches for 265 yards, Graham has put the ball in the endzone just twice this season. If you are Leo, you have to worry about that other 14 touchdowns that come from seven other guys including the five out of Tre Bates and three from Audreon Anderson. There is a flash factor and a big yardage factor with Graham but New Haven has been winning other ways so far. This will be a big game for the likes of Aiden Furnish and Jaxon Keller for Leo on the defensive end.
Check back for Blitz’s picks on Thursday to find out!