FORT WAYNE – It ended that late October night with Luke Amstutz kneeling between the "E" and the "N" at midfield, staring blankly at nothing as the Concord Minutemen celebrated loudly behind him.
Nine months later, the blank stare is gone. And East Noble's football coach sees nothing but open road ahead.
"Losing that game was mind-numbingly hard, because we knew there could have been a nice run after that," he says, thinking back to the last-second 38-35 home sectional loss to Concord.
"But we've got a lot of guys back and a lot of guys excited about what could happen this year."
And they'll take with them as much good as bad out of that night – namely, the way they roared back from a 35-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to tie it, and how that said a lot more about the football team they'd become under their first-year coach.
"Losing to Concord last year when we thought we should have gone a lot farther, that was awful," defensive back Nathan Wible says. "Won't let it happen again. We just have to keep the practice intensity up every week. That's the main difference."
There will be a few others this fall, from a team that went 7-3, won its last four regular-season games and averaged 39.7 points out of Amstutz' pass-crazy spread. With quarterback Nic Weimer gone, the Knights won't be nearly as pass-crazy, for one thing; new quarterback Bryce Wolfe will still have all-state receiver Grey Fox (76 catches for 1,117 yards) to throw to, but he ran for 226 yards last season and returning back Brandon Mable grounded out 736, giving the East Noble offense a bit of as different look.
"Last year we had a quarterback who could really throw it, and we flung it around a lot," Amstutz says. "We have a little bit more inexperienced quarterback this year, but he's got some skills our kid last year didn't in the running game. We've got what we think is an excellent offensive line coming back and a couple really good running backs coming back, so we'll probably be a little bit more of a running team, I guess."
On the defense, nine starters return, including Wible; All-NHC linebacker Walker Boyles; and Mable, who was all-state.
"Defensively we're going to be really good again and we're excited about that," Amstutz says.
"It was a great experience for me to come in first year into an established program already and come in and compete and play well. The kids at East Noble expect to win and prepare to win, and we really built off the finish of that year."