Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette East Noble’s Andrew McCormick finds a gap in the defensive line to complete a first down during Friday’s Northeast Eight game in Kendallville. The host Knights won to set a three-way tie for the conference lead.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Donley Durbin of East Noble runs for a first down Friday night.
Saturday, October 07, 2017 1:00 am
East Noble 42 New Haven 21
East Noble hands Bulldogs 1st loss
JOSH PATTERSON | For The Journal Gazette
KENDALLVILLE – Facing an unbeaten opponent? Missing the area's leading receiver? None of that mattered to East Noble on Friday night.
The Knights scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to hand New Haven its first loss, 42-21.
East Noble's victory created a three-way tie atop the Northeast Eight standings with a week left in the regular season, as the Knights joined the Bulldogs and Leo with 5-1 league records.
It's a victory East Noble senior Griffen Dafforn-Koebler, who opened the scoring with a 30-yard run and recovered a fourth-quarter onside kick, sensed was coming well before Friday.
“We had a good week,” Dafforn-Koebler said. “Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we were firing. We were all firing on all cylinders and it felt great.
“I think that everybody just played how they were supposed to. Everybody just played with the intensity that if we lost, it was the seniors' last chance to win conference.”
With running back Kaiden Harshberger and his area-best 49 receptions out of the lineup, East Noble (6-2) needed someone to step up. Senior Damian Bowker, listed as a receiver, did just that, turning a 7-7 tie after the opening quarter into a 21-7 Knights lead with two second-quarter touchdown runs.
His first score, a 3-yarder around the right side, gave East Noble a lead it wouldn't relinquish. His second affirmed the Knights' domination. Bowker carried multiple defenders on a bruising 14-yard rumble, running backward over the final five yards before plowing into the end zone to put the Knights up by two touchdowns.
“I've never carried the ball, but I tell you what, when I got the ball, all I saw was end zone,” Bowker said. “No one was stopping me. The only thing I could think was to keep on trucking, don't let him bring me down.”
East Noble's defense matched Bowker's gritty effort. Stephen Owens entered the game needing 81 rushing yards to reach 1,000 on the season for New Haven (7-1) but was limited to 63, less than half his season average of 131 per game.
“The (defensive line), they stepped up and played great, and the linebackers filled the holes behind them,” said East Noble quarterback Andrew McCormick, who ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
McCormick's first score, a 5-yard run on the fourth quarter's initial play, extended the Knights' lead to 28-14. Just three plays later, Hayden Jones returned a Tim Jordan interception 43 yards for a touchdown.
“I saw (the receiver) run the hitch a couple times,” Jones said. “It looked like he was lined up that way, so I jumped it. I was just praying I wouldn't get caught.”
On the ensuing kickoff, East Noble's kicker connected on a low line drive. Instead of bouncing back to the New Haven returners, the ball caromed off Treyon Boyd's legs, right into Dafforn-Koebler's path.
“My heart lit up,” Dafforn-Koebler said. “I'm like, they're nowhere near it, all I have to do is fall on it. My heart was racing.”
As New Haven coach Jim Rowland explained, the kick served as a microcosm of the night.
“I felt like the ball just bounced East Noble's way tonight,” Rowland said. “We've had it bounce our way this season, but two onside kicks and the pick six, that's 21 points. To their credit, they saw blood in the water and they circled.”