This week, the Leo Lions will face the Northridge Raiders at Raider Field. It’s been more than a year since these two last played each other on the football field. It was October 23, 2020, where Leo held on for a 14-7 win over a then undefeated Northridge roster. 

Just 2 weeks earlier, Leo (11-0) under Coach Sauder eliminated East Noble 32-29 with just seconds remaining before dominating a young DeKalb team 44-14. For first year coach Chad Eppley, they’ve responded well from a horrible streak where the Raiders had lost 4 of 5 games heading into postseason play. However, in sectionals, Northridge avenged their 34-point loss, with a 28-7 home win over Northwood and dominated early on to beat Columbia City 35-21 last week. 

Now, these two square off with the opportunity to bring home a sectional championship and a trip to regionals. Leo last won a sectional championship in 2011 when they went all the way to semistate. Northridge’s last championship came in 2014. 

Northridge has a pretty good balance of throwing and running the ball throughout a particular game. For example, during the 28-7 win over Northwood, junior quarterback Tagg Gott threw for 260 yards and a touchdown pass and running for 87 yards and 3 touchdowns. Gott not only has 546 passing yards and three touchdown passes on the season, he’s running for 687 yards and 7 touchdowns. This depth is going to be challenged due to the size and physicality Leo’s interior defensive line brings led by Landen Livingston, Rylan Crawford, and DJ Allen.

Senior Kain Holderread is running for 219 yards on only 39 carries and 4 touchdowns. If Leo is able to force Northridge into becoming a more one dimensional offense, this could be a long night for the offensive line. 

That’s not even talking about Leo’s offense, senior quarterback Jackson Barbour is starting to find confidence in his arm as of late, and that’s bad news for every opponent in 4A. He was the reason Leo won the East Noble game other than Kaeden Miller’s incredible effort. That Barbour-Miller connection is becoming a dangerous combo for this run-heavy offense in play action situations. 

The deception Leo’s offense runs in their run-oriented scheme has created headaches for opposing interior lineman. If Barbour can continue to successfully execute that deception plus build off of that confidence in throwing the ball for certain plays, this is a disastrous situation for Northridge. 

The only true hope Northridge has is if they can contain Leo’s leading rushers Mason Sheron and Carson Hoeppner, and if they’re able to get Barbour off rhythm and getting them into a bad spell of turnovers. 

Because if the Leo team from the last two weeks is the same team we see Friday, this could be the year this core finally wins a sectional championship.