Leo is once again set to face East Noble in the Class 4A sectional, and coach Jared Sauder had an easy answer when asked what the Lions learned from their first meeting with the Knights a month ago.
“One, they're never out of it. Football teams like that, and they're a well-coached team, a good program, they'll fight to the very end,” Sauder said, referring to East Noble's 20-0 run to tie the game at 32 in the fourth quarter in Week 4.
Leo (9-0) put together a game-winning drive and defensive stand to win 40-32 and take control of the NE8 race, but the near-comeback was a reminder East Noble (6-2) is always a threat. In 2020, the Knights lost the regular-season matchup 24-0, only to beat Leo 10-0 in the sectional finals. The Knights also won both meetings in 2019.
“It's in the past, and we're not talking about it a whole lot, but it is in the back of our minds. We're always going to be thinking about it, but we're just trying to focus on what's at hand and executing this week,” Leo senior running back and defensive end Mason Sharon said about those recent playoff losses.
Leo, which ends the regular season as the Class 4A No. 2 team in the IFCA and AP polls, is focused on preventing self-inflicted errors such as penalties and turnovers. In Week 4, a penalty hampered the Lions offense early in the third quarter, fueling the Knights' rally, and a Lions fumble gave East Noble the ball and a chance to tie the game.
“Any time you face a quality opponent, you have to play fundamentally sound,” Sauder said.
In Kendallville, the Knights were left wondering what could've been.
“We had a rough first half when we played them. But if we can execute all four quarters, I have no doubt we'll be able to win,” East Noble senior wide receiver and defensive back Rowan Zolman said.
East Noble coach Luke Amstutz said poor tackling was one of the biggest problems in the first game, and matching Leo's physicality on the offensive line will be necessary.
Leo runs a T-formation offense that is relatively rare in northeast Indiana.
“That offensive line and those running backs, that's as good a group as you're going to see. I really believe I've got one of the best teams I've ever had, and that's how good this Leo team is,” Amstutz said. “I know a lot of people inside (Fort Wayne) don't want to hear that a team outside the city is better, but this Leo team has as good a group of people on the field as anybody else.”
Although the teams expected to meet in the playoffs again this year, Amstutz said he doesn't believe either kept part of the playbook in reserve.
“It was an important game when we played each other, and neither team necessarily held back a lot,” Amstutz said. “Having that film to relive it with the kids and talk about mistakes and what worked, obviously it's an advantage for both teams. But one of those teams is going to make adjustments a little better than the other.”
All at 7 p.m. unless indicated
DeKalb at Wawasee
Leo at East Noble
Angola at Columbia City
Marion at Wayne
South Side at Delta
New Haven at Huntington North
West Noble at Jimtown
Tippecanoe Valley at Garrett
Norwell at Maconaquah
Northwestern at Concordia
Oak Hill at Bellmont
Heritage at Peru
Bluffton at Eastside
Whitko at Central Noble
Fairfield vs. Luers (7:30 at Dwenger)
Prairie Heights at Woodlan
South Adams at Madison-Grant
Southern Wells at Taylor
Northfield at Fremont
North Miami at Southwood
Adams Central at Churubusco