KENDALLVILLE – When East Noble coach Luke Amstutz addressed his beaten, teary-eyed team after the Knights lost to Marion 28-20 in the Class 4A regional Friday night, he told the players to hold their heads up.
“I love you guys and I wish I could (take the field) again Monday,” Amstutz said. “I feel like it's the end of the 'Wizard of Oz' when Dorothy has to say goodbye to everyone.”
The Knights (9-4) saw their season come to an end against the Giants at East Noble as a 21-3 first-half hole proved too much to overcome. Justin Marcellus ran 25 times for 111 yards and a touchdown and Nick Munson caught five passes for 82 yards in the defeat.
“It definitely stung,” senior quarterback Cole Shupbach said. “But there's no other place I'd rather be. We played our last game on our home field and I got to play with the most amazing team I've ever played with. I've been blessed with this coaching staff. It's unbelievable.”
The Knights fell behind by 18 in the second quarter after a big Marion punt return and a 49-yard touchdown run from Giants running back Zaimar Burnett. But East Noble responded, with Munson catching passes of 20 and 50 yards on the ensuing possession to set up a Kainon Carico 3-yard touchdown burst just before halftime.
In the third quarter, East Noble crept closer. Rowan Zolman recovered a Marion fumble and Marcellus, who finished his career sixth on the all-time Knights rushing list, put together a spectacular drive, starting it off with a 41-yard run through the left side and then finishing it two plays later with 15-yard run on which he bowled over a would-be tackler at the 2-yard line for a touchdown.
The final quarter belonged to Marion, however. The Giants intercepted two of Shupbach's passes down the stretch and a 12-yard Malachi Silmon touchdown run made it 28-17. Cristian Sanchez nailed a spectacular 47-yard field goal that cleared the crossbar by inches with 2:39 left to keep the Knights in it, but Marion recovered an onside kick and ran the clock out.
“We're awful proud of these kids,” Amstutz said. “This is a group that I really respect. We had a lot of accomplishments. This is a season that we played the toughest schedule we could have played and we got it done and won a championship. There's a lot to keep our heads up about and a lot to be proud of.”
This East Noble senior class will go down as one of the best in school history with a semistate championship, a regional title and two sectional crowns.
Maybe the best testament to the Knights ability came after the game. Marion defensive lineman Trevor Riah approached a group of commiserating East Noble players and congratulated them on a good game.
“You all are some dogs, for real,” Riah said.