The Journal Gazette
Saturday, September 04, 2021 1:00 am

Defense stellar for Lions

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

OSSIAN – Lost in the impressiveness of Leo's offense – and when it comes to running the ball, it's been nothing short of unreal this season – has been the Lions' defense.

On Friday night, as Leo continued to demonstrate its ability to break off big run after big run, racking up 383 yards on the ground, the defense held strong, too, in a commanding 41-7 victory over the Norwell Knights.

“Everybody talks about our offense, but I think the defense is the strong part of our team,” said Leo's Mason Sheron, who had four solo tackles and a sack as a defensive lineman to go with his eight carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns. “I mean, we don't allow very many first downs ... and every time we're out there, we're getting sacks and getting tackles for a loss. We just work so well as a unit, and I think we're going to be a force to mess with this season.”

Leo (3-0) has outscored opponents 134-29. On Friday, the Lions built a 34-0 lead by halftime and didn't allow a point until Norwell's Jon Colbert completed the scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run with 10:04 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“The defense has done a great job, and it starts with the guys up front,” Leo coach Jared Sauder said. “We have guys who can run-tackle well. We do need to improve our tackling a little bit and that would be one thing from this game that we really need to work on, is our tackling, but we play physically up front, and those guys set the tone for us being able to hold offenses to just a few yards.”

Ethan Crawford paced the Leo offense with six carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns – from 64, 46 and 33 yards out – and quarterback Jackson Barbour rushed seven times for 33 yards and a 1-yard touchdown.

Barbour attempted only one pass – it was intercepted by Drew Ringger late in the first half – and Leo has attempted only five passes this season in victories over Woodlan, Angola and Norwell. But with this much success running, and so many weapons, such as Carson Hoeppner, who had seven carries for 54 yards Friday, or Kaeden Miller, who had two carries for 32 yards, the Lions don't feel the need to air it out.

“It's amazing because you never feel like you have to carry the team,” said Sheron, whose team is ranked fourth in the Class 4A media poll and fifth in the coaches poll. “You can rely on teammate after teammate after teammate, and even if you have a bad run, you know the linemen are going to pick you up and they're going to block for you. And then, you've got another running back who can come in and will run for you and it's just an amazing time.”

Norwell (2-1), which had beaten Jennings County and Heritage by a combined score of 97-6 in the first two weeks of the season and is ranked eighth in the Class 3A media poll and 10th in the coaches poll, was paced by Colbert's 18 carries for 70 yards and the touchdown.

The Knights' Timothy Bonjour had nine carries for 55 yards. And Lleyton Bailey completed 9 of 19 passes for 134 yards against a Leo defense paced by Drew Baker, Jon Moore and Rylan Crawford, who had five solo tackles each. Norwell totaled 313 offensive yards.

“It was a good win for our guys, and I thought we executed well again this week,” Sauder said. “Offensively, the guys up front got it done again. The backs did a great job running and it was really a game about execution and we didn't make too many mistakes on either side of the ball. The defense, it was another great outing.”

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