LEO-CEDARVILLE – When Leo is on offense, it can be difficult to keep track of who has the football, whether you're watching from the bleachers or trying to tackle the ball-carrier. It can be frustrating, boring at times, as the Lions run out of a full-house, T-formation.
But it takes only one play – one lack of concentration from the defense – to blow a game wide open.
Kaeden Miller was the center of that one play Friday, running a trap up the middle and scampering for a 72-yard touchdown with 1:35 remaining in the first half. It was the first substantial offensive play – the most important of the night – as Leo upended East Noble 24-0.
“We just kind of wear them down with the misdirection and there's going to be a time when the big play happens,” said Miller, who carried 16 times for 122 yards and the touchdown for a 10-0 lead. “In the first half, we'd only scored three (points) and then that big play came about, and then I think that made them realize that, 'Hey, this is going to happen.'”
And a lot did happen: Leo (4-1) got its third shutout of the season and avenged its only two losses of last season, 35-7 to the Knights in Week 5 and 14-7 in the sectional final; East Noble, which lost in the Class 4A state championship game last year to Evansville Memorial, was dealt its first conference loss since Week 5 of 2017, when it fell to Leo; and the Knights (3-2) were held to 186 offensive yards and turned the ball over five times.
“This means a lot,” said Miller, whose offense totaled 235 yards, all on the ground, with no turnovers. “This game was very personal coming into this night. Another thing is, we never know when our last week is due to (COVID-19), so we really shut out today.”
Leo's impressive defensive performance was paced by Rylan Crawford, who twice intercepted Dalton Stinson passes. The first pick came at the Leo 2-yard line just before halftime. The other came with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter, though his return for a touchdown was called back because of an illegal block.
“Rylan does a lot of things really well,” Leo coach Jared Sauder said. “He's just an outstanding athlete.”
The Lions took a 17-0 lead when Jackson Barbour rushed from 1 yard out with 8:37 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ethan Crawford's 2-yard touchdown run finished the scoring for Leo, ranked 13th in Class 4A media poll and eighth in the coaches poll.
“Tonight was a very big win for us, but the job's not done yet,” Miller said. “We may celebrate this win tonight and tomorrow, but our job is not done and we want a conference championship. That's what we're going to strive to get.”