KENDALLVILLE – East Noble quarterback Bailey Parker was just two years old the last time the Knights won a sectional championship. On Friday, the senior sprinted through the Leo defense and into East Noble history with a 33-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave the Knights their first sectional title since 2003.
"He's a heck of a player," coach Luke Amstutz said of Parker. "Now with this, he goes down as one of East Noble's all-time greats."
Parker also threw a touchdown pass and racked up 258 total yards, while Hayden Jones caught the touchdown toss and had the clinching interception late in the fourth quarter to lead the No. 1 Knights to a hard-fought 14-7 win over 13th-ranked Leo in the Class 4A sectional at East Noble.
The victory earns the Knights a date with No. 9 Mississinewa (11-1) on the road in the regional next week.
The game ended with Parker kneeling down to seal the victory as East Noble players poured off the sidelines. Moments later, fans from the nearly-full bleachers followed suit and a joyous mob formed at midfield as a group of Knights held the sectional championship plaque aloft in the middle.
"It's been a long time coming," Jones said of the championship. "We have a bunch of hard-working guys and a community that supports us so well. It feels amazing."
The Knights (12-0) won the first matchup between these teams 35-7, but Leo (10-2) knocked the NE8 champions on their heels early in the game and the score was 7-all at halftime.
It remained that way until midway through the third quarter, when Parker took over with legs. His quarterback runs had been bottled up most of the night, but he sprinted up the middle for 20 yards to move the ball into Lions territory and followed that up with the 33-yard scamper around the right side for the go-ahead touchdown.
"They say you dance with who you brung to the dance," Amstutz said. "(Parker)'s been our dude and he did an awesome job."
The Knights' defense clamped down in the fourth quarter and held the lead. Leo's last opportunity came with less than five minutes remaining and the Lions drove the ball to midfield. On fourth-and-nine, however, quarterback Jackson Barbour tried to throw right and Jones was in perfect position to pick it off and all but ice the triumph.
Jones was the playmaker in the second quarter, as well, when he leapt and hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Parker to knot the score at 7. He was left open at the line of scrimmage and the quarterback found him with a perfect strike.
"Bailey puts it right where it needs to be and I caught it," said Jones, who finished with four catches for 70 yards. "The play comes and you make the play."
After the game, Amstutz stood in front of his team and related the experience of losing in the sectional championship to end his playing career exactly two decades prior to this team's win.
"I'm so freaking proud of you," he said. "You guys get to keep playing. Twelve and freaking 0, baby."