INDIANAPOLIS – East Noble's perfect season fell apart in the blink of an eye as a halftime lead gave way to a 21-3 loss to Evansville Memorial in the Class 4A state football title game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Knights (14-1) had led 3-0 at halftime and, despite a few mistakes, seemed well in control against the Tigers. The Evansville Memorial offense had only crossed midfield once in the first half, and in that case quarterback was picked off almost immediately by East Noble's Brooks Miller.
But Evansville Memorial (13-1), playing in its third straight state title game, put it together in the third quarter. The Tigers' first attempt at a flea-flicker failed as Hayden Jones and Miller broke up the pass around the 5-yard line, but the Tigers continued to chip away at the Knights' defense, finally scoring at 3:55 in the third quarter. Alan Michael Stepto lined up behind center, but flipped the ball to Colton Pence, the Tigers' main quarterback, who then threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Will Brackett to put Evansville Memorial ahead 7-3.
On the next drive, Logan Lively intercepted East Noble quarterback Bailey Parker for the second time, this time returning the ball almost all the way to the end zone. After one more stop by the Knights defense, Brock Combs scored on a 1-yard touchdown carry to put Evansville Memorial up 14-3. Only 92 seconds of game time had elapsed between the two scores.
East Noble reached the red zone several times, but the Knights struggled once they got there.
Early in the second quarter, on the drive set up by Miller's interception, the Knights got to the 18-yard line before they were halted by the Tigers. East Noble attempted a field goal from that distance, but the kick barely cleared the Tigers' line and landed well short of the uprights.
As the clock wound down in the first half, Parker ran the ball to the 8-yard line before being pushed out of bounds. But that key play was followed by an offsides penalty, a tackle for a loss and then an incomplete pass. A pass interference call on third down gave the Knights a lifeline, and they took advantage with a 27-yard field goal by Joe Painter.
After the Tigers scored their second touchdown, the Knights got back to the Evansville Memorial red zone, but on third and goal Parker was picked off by Stepto in the end zone.
East Noble defensive lineman Leyth Al-Mohammedawi gave the Knights one last highlight by blocking an Evansville Memorial punt, giving the Knights the ball back at the 31-yard line, but East Noble failed to take advantage of their fortunate break.
A 65-yard run by Combs with 2:54 to go in the fourth quarter sealed the win for the Tigers, who claimed their second state title in three years. Stepto capped off a strong performance with his second interception of the game in the final moments.