LEO-CEDARVILLE – D.J. Allen used his 6-foot-7 frame to power around the offensive line and snatch a screen pass from mid-air. He then gingerly trotted into the end zone – his interception return amounting to 3 yards – and it stoked the Leo Lions' defense early Friday night.
Few could have imagined just how much the game with the Norwell Knights would come down to defense, and Allen's touchdown midway through the first quarter set the tone for Leo's 17-0 victory.
“It definitely got us going, for sure,” said Allen, a junior defensive end and tight end. “Especially early in the game, coming out, we needed that energy. That energy definitely led us, offensively and defensively.”
The teams totaled only 373 offensive yards – 235 for Leo and 138 for Norwell – so big plays were at a premium in the conference opener. None were bigger than Allen's interception of an Eli Riley pass intended for wide receiver Luke Graft.
“It got us going. It was a good play by D.J. Allen,” said Leo coach Jared Sauder, whose team is ranked 15th in Class 4A. “It got them kind of on a roll there and in a rhythm, after our first (offensive) series didn't work out so well. So that was a good play.”
Norwell (2-1), ranked 18th in Class 3A, turned the ball over only once, but it couldn't match the offensive production of its first two games – a 42-0 victory over Jay County and a 35-7 victory over Heritage.
“I came off the line, was going to bend, but I saw the ball right there and I just grabbed it and took it in,” Allen said of his defensive touchdown. “I didn't really expect that play, but when I saw the quarterback come back, I was definitely ready for the pass. When it came right to me, it was right there, and I just had to secure it.”
Leo's defense got six solo tackles from Dallen Wirtz and five apiece from Michael O'Brien and Landen Livingston. The Lions' offense was paced by Kaeden Miller, who rushed 11 times for 63 yards; Ethan Crawford, who rushed 10 times for 46 yards; and Carson Hoeppner, who rushed six times for 41 yards.
For Leo (2-1), which came in having defeated Woodlan 50-0 and lost to Mooresville 34-17, quarterback Jackson Barbour completed 1 of 3 passes for 13 yards with an interception, though he rushed eight times for 41 yards and handed the ball to Tanner Jackson for a 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter. That was followed by a Crawford 2-point conversion run for a 14-0 lead.
“I thought our kids played well,” Sauder said. “It was a little frustrating offensively, but (the Knights) have a good defense and they played hard defensively and made it tough on us tonight. We got (eight) penalties and (two) turnovers that hurt us as well on the offensive side of the ball. But for us, it was all about our defense tonight. I can't say enough about our defense, and our defensive coaches, and how they did tonight pitching the shutout.”