KENDALLVILLE – Before the season began, East Noble coach Luke Amstutz called Rowan Zolman “one of the best players that no one knows about” in northeast Indiana.
Columbia City knows him now.
Zolman had a monster Friday night for the Knights in the Class 4A sectional at East Noble. He hauled in three long touchdown passes on offense, and intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble on defense in East Noble's 35-7 victory over the Eagles.
“He's one of the best players around, he really is,” Amstutz said. “I mean the dude's awesome. You can look at a night like this and say, 'Well, it's lucky, he gets a couple balls tipped to him,' but that just happens all the time for him. Because he's athletic, he gets himself in the right spots. He's smart and he's physical.”
Zolman, a 6-foot-5 junior, missed four games early in the season, during which the Knights lost three straight, but he's healthy now and helping them peak late in the season, which was the goal all along.
“It was really awful,” Zolman said of being out. “But I was there to support my team and I did all I could. ... We're finally becoming fully healthy and fully healthy is helping us a lot. We're getting our original position players back and that's great.”
The Knights (7-3) dominated from start to finish to advance to the sectional semifinals, where they will take on DeKalb for a trip to the finals. The win was East Noble's fourth in a row, and the team is gaining confidence as it tries to defend its 2019 semistate title.
“We're never going to be afraid of anybody,” Amstutz said. “We just want to come out and play hard, tough-nosed football. We've finally found that mesh of being able to play tough-nosed but still have that fast pace of play, throw the ball a little bit. It's been great for us. It's been a recipe for success this time of year.”
The Knights jumped in front of the Eagles (6-4) less than four minutes into the game. After East Noble recovered a fumble from Columbia City quarterback Greg Bolt, running back Justin Marcellus burst through the line for a 55-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
Marcellus scored twice and had 109 rushing yards on 13 carries despite leaving the game after taking a big hit early in the third quarter. Amstutz said he was held out mostly as a precaution and the running back should be fine going forward.
“What a game, though,” the coach said of Marcellus. “That kid's a stud. He's a great player.”
The rest of the first half was the Zolman Show. Later in the first quarter, quarterback Cole Schupbach found him with a perfectly lofted throw on a go route down the right sideline. Zolman hauled it in for a 32-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Bolt looked deep, but the ball bounced off cornerback Damien Williams' helmet and into Zolman's arms, and he returned the interception 65 yards to the Columbia City 14 to set up another score.
On the next Eagles possession, Bolt fumbled again, and Zolman emerged from the pile with the ball deep in Columbia City territory. On 4th and 12 for the Knights on that drive, Schupbach threw the ball into coverage in Zolman's direction and he came down with it for a 25-yard score and a 28-0 halftime lead. He ended his night with a 40-yard touchdown catch of a tipped pass in the third quarter to ice the victory.
Columbia City's season ended with a fourth straight loss following a 6-0 start.