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The storylines are numerous heading into Friday's game at Leo between the undefeated Lions and Class 4A No. 9 East Noble.
But perhaps the biggest – and maybe most overlooked – storyline involves one player, East Noble's Brandon Mable.
After missing a part of the season, the running back has returned to the Knights with authority, including a 269-yard, five-touchdown effort last week. He is also as dangerous in the return game.
Leo coach Jared Sauder knows all about the electric senior.
“He is the best running back we will have faced all year,” Sauder said. “He is a fast back who makes you miss, and once he is in open space he will outrun you.”
While East Noble (8-2) has playmakers all over the field whom Leo will have to account for, including wide receiver Grey Fox and quarterback Bryce Wolfe, the focus for both teams will revolve around Mable. The Knights will want to establish their stud running back on the ground and set the tone, while the Lions will want to take away that aspect of the game and force East Noble to beat them through the air.
“We have other guys who can pound away and get tough yardage, but Brandon is one guy where every time he touches (the ball) he can score,” East Noble coach Luke Amstutz said. “That is huge for you as a play caller. But it is also a huge threat to the defense where they (have to defend) a guy who can touch it and be gone.”
And that is the dilemma for the Lions. Sauder does not hesitate in calling East Noble "the best offense we have faced, no question." The question is whether the Lions can limit Mable while still in their base defense to prevent big opportunities for the East Noble passing attack.
“We have to play defense in a fundamental manner,” Sauder said. “We have to know what our assignment is, get our assignment done and have everyone getting to the football.
“If you have a breakdown, (Mable) makes you pay.”
The Lions hope their defense, which has limited eight opponents this season to seven points or fewer, is up to the challenge.
“Everybody needs to be pursuing to the football,” Sauder said. “In my mind, that's what stops big plays.”
Class 4A No. 5 Leo (10-0) hopes it can make the Knights pay with a rushing attack of its own, led by Logan Leiter.
Leiter was sensational as the Lions breezed through the ACAC season with the exception of a tough seven-point win over Woodlan in the slop.
“We need to play a clean football game,” Sauder said. “If you turn the ball over against East Noble, they make you pay.”
Sauder feels his team is ready for the challenges that East Noble presents.
“We have had a good week of preparation. Our kids know what is ahead of them,” Sauder said. “We are confident, but not overconfident.”