NEW HAVEN – They wore it like a badge of honor, all that juicy John H. Young Field earth. It stained their white jerseys 10 shades of beige. Clung like tan paint to their arms and legs. Left them looking, head to toe, like so many teenage-shaped adobe bricks.
Dirtiest team in northeast Indiana, your East Noble Knights. But in a good way.
On a cold, wet night that churned the football field into a yummy mud casserole, the flashy Knights played against type and found it suited them. Led by Brandon Mable’s 173 rushing yards, Walker Boyles’ two short touchdown runs and a hyper-aggressive defense that got into the New Haven Bulldogs’ backfield all night, the Knights ground up the Bulldogs’ undefeated season in a 17-0 shutout.
It was the sort of grit-heavy win some suspected the Knights – who came in averaging 42 points out of a spread offense that featured the area’s top passer in Nic Weimer (1,904 yards and 22 touchdowns) – might not have in them. But when the forecast called for rain, they were ready.
We’d been working on it all week, East Noble coach Luke Amstutz said. We put in the jumbo set with all the big guys on it. We’d been kind of saving it. We knew there was going to be a game where we were going to have to use it, and tonight we got it done.
No one got it done better than Mable, who played as if he had an Evinrude attached to his back while virtually everyone else slipped and slid in the mud.
I love it, he said. I love running in rain and mud and stuff, getting dirty.
So what was the secret?
My first thing was don’t slip, run low to the ground, said Mable, who sealed things by returning an interception to the New Haven 11-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter, setting up Boyle’s second touchdown. Don’t rush things, let plays develop. Take an extra juke, try to get the defense off course – and if I can’t, put my head down.
There was a lot of that going around for the Knights, who dominated the line of scrimmage and made life especially miserable for the Bulldogs’ potent ground game, which never did find any traction. New Haven, which came in averaging 35.5 points itself, rushed for just 78 yards, put up 87 yards total and managed just two first downs all night. Anthony Moore, who came in as the area’s third-leading rusher, managed just 59 yards in 13 carries and got 43 of them on one fourth-quarter burst.
It was virtually the only daylight all night for the Bulldogs, who turned the ball over three times and crossed midfield just twice.
In conditions like this, I really think the benefit will always go to the more aggressive team, Amstutz said. Our guys knew where they were going, they were sure of it, and they got in the backfield and made some big hits. That just set the tone all night.