KENDALLVILLE — The Knights want this one really bad.
They’ve only been on this stage twice since their last sectional championship in 2003, and both times came under head coach Luke Amstutz, who also wants this one really bad.
A win tonight wouldn’t only give Amstutz, who’s in his 12th year of coaching, his first sectional championship as a coach, but it would end all of the talk that the Knights can’t win in the postseason anymore. All of the close losses in the postseason, all of the heartbreak and all of the pain would wash away with one win, but it won’t come as easy as the 35-7 victory earlier this season.
Here’s a look at tonight’s sectional championship game.
Leo at East Noble
Radio: WAWK (95.5 FM, Kendallville, 94.3 FM, Auburn).
Where: East Noble High School, Kendallville.
When: 7 p.m.
Records: Class 4A No. 2 Knights 11-0, No. 10 Leo 10-1
Last meeting: East Noble dominated Leo 35-7 at home in Week 5.
Last week: The Knights downed DeKalb 42-14 while the Lions bested NorthWood 10-6.
Players to watch: East Noble — Sr. QB-DB Bailey Parker, Sr. WR-DB Hayden Jones, Sr. WR-DB Gage Ernsberger, So. WR-DB Rowan Zolman, Jr. LB Jacob VanGorder, Jr. RB Justin Marcellus, Jr. LB Cole Schupbach, Sr. DL Leyth Al-Mohammedawi, Sr. DL Trey Ritchie. Leo — Sr. RB Peyton Wall, So. QB Jackson Barbour, Sr. RB-LB Mason Sheron, Sr. OL-DL Tom Busch, Sr. DL GT Baker.
Outlook: Another Class 4A top 10 showdown will play out on the turf in Kendallville, and the Lions’ lone loss came on the very same field back on Sept. 20. The lone touchdown from the Lions in that contest was a 99-yard kickoff returned for a touchdown.
This time around Leo will need more production from running back Peyton Wall, who was held to just 10 yards on 12 carries in the last matchup. Wall ran the ball 21 times for 204 yards and a touchdown against NorthWood last week. Can he replicate his latest performance against the Knights’ defense?
The Lions will try to establish Wall again this week, as that gives them the best chance to come away with a win. If they can’t, it will be up to sophomore quarterback Jackson Barbour, who was 8-for-16 for 116 yards and two interceptions against the Knights earlier this season. If the Knights can slow down the rushing attack and make Barbour throw more than what the Leo coaching staff probably wants, that will favor the home team.
Offensively, Bailey Parker was terrific against Leo in Week 5. He completed 14-of-20 for 183 yards and three touchdowns, and he ran for 139 yards on 15 attempts and another score. Parker was able to hit his top two targets in Hayden Jones and Gage Ernsberger each for six catches. More weapons have developed for Parker since that game, including Nick Munson and Brett Christian.
The Lions did give up 349 yards of total offense to NorthWood last week but also forced four turnovers, all in the second half. East Noble has only given up the ball once per game in the last four weeks.
The Knights haven’t had trouble moving the ball or scoring points this season, even against some of the better defenses in the area. Leo is going to have to match East Noble score for score or control the clock with their running game.