Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette The East Noble defense forces a fumble against New Haven during the third quarter Friday at New Haven High School.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Bailey Parker of East Noble hands the ball off to Kaiden Harshberger during the third quarter against New Haven on Friday at New Haven High School.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Brooks Miller of East Noble tackles Nijae Fields-Lewis of New Haven as soon as he catches the ball during the third quarter Friday at New Haven High School
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette East Noble defense takes Dae’Von Wolford of New Haven down behind the line of scrimmage during the third quarter at New Haven High School on Friday.
Friday, October 05, 2018 11:10 pm
East Noble wins NE8 crown
DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette
NEW HAVEN – East Noble stands all alone as NE8 conference champions.
A year after sharing the conference title with New Haven and Leo, the Knights dispatched the Bulldogs on Friday behind 265 total yards and five touchdowns from running back Kaiden Harshberger, winning 46-26 to clinch their first outright conference title since 2004 with a week to spare.
"Winning it by yourself feels special," East Noble coach Luke Amstutz said. "For this senior class, they'll always be able to have something that no one can take away from them. I'm just awful proud of them."
One of those seniors is Harshberger, who had a special night for the Knights (7-1, 6-0 NE8).
"I've been thinking about (an outright title) for a while," Harshberger said. "Ever since we were seventh-, eighth-graders in middle school, we've always wanted to be the ones on top. Everything that we've worked for, it's awesome to achieve that, especially against a good team."
After losing quarterback Andrew McCormick, one of the best in school history, to graduation, East Noble regrouped with a powerful running game centered around Harshberger. The senior's big night Friday was his sixth straight game with at least three touchdowns and he proved unstoppable against the Bulldogs.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound Harshberger scored on touchdown runs of 11, 35, 19, 35 and 44 yards, helping East Noble keep the Bulldogs at arm's length in the second half. Twice New Haven (4-4, 4-2) cut its deficit to two scores and twice Harshberger responded with a long scoring run to keep his team's margin comfortable.
"He was the best athlete on the field," Amstutz said. "And that's saying something because New Haven has plenty of great athletes."
For his part, Harshberger tried to spread the praise around, pointing out the effect the Knights' offensive linemen had on the victory.
"I gotta give the credit to the big guys up front again," he said. "They do a heck of a job, especially tonight against those (New Haven) big guys."
Harshberger did have some large holes to run through, although that had something to do with quarterback Bailey Parker's performance, as well. The junior, who has done an admirable job of filling the large shoes McCormick left behind, was solid again Friday, running for 108 yards on 16 carries and completing 6 of 12 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Parker and Harshberger ran the read-option efficiently and Amstutz said Parker was the best high school quarterback he's seen at running the read-option offense, which requires quick thinking and a cerebral grasp of opposing defenses.
The Bulldogs came in with a chance to draw even with East Noble in the conference standings and took an early 7-6 lead behind a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tim Jordan to receiver Nick Sexton. That pair connected eight times for 91 yards and two scores to keep New Haven alive most of the night.
After that first-quarter score, however, the Bulldogs didn't score again until near the end of the third quarter, while the Knights rattled off 20 straight points to take a commanding lead.