INDIANAPOLIS — East Noble was hit in the mouth.
East Noble was shocked.
East Noble never recovered.
East Noble lost the state title.
The Knights (14-1) came into Saturday as a healthy team, but the loss of starting running back Justin Marcellus and the shots on quarterback Bailey Parker took their toll in a 21-3 loss to Evansville Memorial (13-1) in the Class 4A State Championship.
“It was tough. They were a good hitting team, hard hitting team,” Parker said. “A lot of respect for them that they came out and hit us in the mouth. They were just way more physical (than us).”
Marcellus went down on the third play of their third drive early in the second quarter, which brought in backup Jacob VanGorder, who had 24 carries coming into Saturday. His only carry of the postseason came in the sectional opener at Northridge.
With VanGorder in the backfield, the Knights drove to the 18-yard line but had to settle for a 35-yard field goal attempt. The kick by Joe Painter was no good.
On the next offensive drive, sophomore Kainon Carico, who only had 16 carries this season, came in at running back and seemed to give the offense a spark. He rushed for 25 yards on six attempts on his first drive. He finished with 41 yards on nine carries.
East Noble was outgained 273-204 in the loss and had 11 first downs, to 13 by the Tigers.
The Knights drove inside the 10-yard line, but a couple of loss forced them to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 21. A defensive pass interference called on the Tigers moved the ball to the 11-yard line, which is where East Noble set up for a 27-yard field goal by Painter. This time, he drilled to give his team a 3-0 lead right before halftime.
The loss of Marcellus didn’t only affect the running game but also the passing attack, which struggled to ever get going against the Tigers defense. Parker finished 7-for-23 for 99 yards and four interceptions.
“They were just getting pressure off the defensive line, and then their defensive backs were good at disguising, covering and baiting me. They picked me off four times and that was the difference in the game,” Parker said.
“I was real proud of our sophomore Kainon Carico for stepping in and playing really well. I think it hurt us a lot in pass protection. Justin had so much experience and those little nuances of how to protect. Once (Justin) went out, it limited some of the things we could do and we could never get the ball rolling,” East Noble head coach Luke Amstutz said.
Parker was only sacked two times on Saturday, but he was running for his life all afternoon and was only able to set his feet and a handful of throws.
“I think there was circumstances that made it tough for him. That was an excellent defense, some injuries, honestly just a defense that was able to do somethings that we didn’t believe they could do. I was just shocked that they were able to do the things they did,” Amstutz said. “They took away some things that we really thought coming into the game that we were going to have success with.”
On the other side for Evansville Memorial, leading rusher Brock Combs, who’s been dealing with nagging injuries throughout the postseason, powered through and rushed for 148 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns.
Memorial took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 80 yards in 18 plays and used up 7:59 of game clock for scoring on a reverse that was tossed to Tiger quarterback Colton Pence, who threw it to an open Will Brackett for the touchdown and the 7-3 lead.
Three plays later, Parker was picked off by Lively for the second time. He returned to the 1-yard line, and the Tigers punched it in two plays later on a run by Brock Combs.
The next Knights’ drive stalled and punter Cole Schupbach tied a Class 4A State Championship game record with a 65-yard punt that rolled to the 2-yard line. He tied Indianapolis Cathedral’s Jack Fleck, who set the record in 2010 against Bishop Dwenger.
The punt led to a 3-and-out by the Tigers and gave the Knights a short field to work with. They drove to the five, but Parker scrambled to his right and threw back left and was picked off for the third time in the end zone.
East Noble had one more chance after Leyth Al-Mohammedawi blocked a pooch punt from Pence, giving his team another short field. But the Knights had to go for it on 4th-and-7 from the Memorial 28, and a pass from Parker fell incomplete.
The turnovers and injuries only piled on the multiple mental lapses early on. On the first play of the game, short kickoff by the Tigers came to Brooks Miller, who signaled for a fair catch but took off after hauling in the kick. Then, they had a penalty with too many men on the field and a delay of game later in the quarter.
East Noble had four penalties for 20 yards in the first quarter and finished with eight for 46 yards.
The Knights ran into a buzz saw in Evansville Memorial on Saturday, and they’ve been able to rise above their own mistakes all season. But the injuries, turnovers and mental mistakes were too much to overcome on the big stage.