By Travis Miller
ZIONSVILLE — Heading into the state tournament the Zionsville Eagles may have played their best half of defense during Friday night’s senior night match up with the Avon Orioles. The Eagles gave up only one first down and 26 yards in the first half, seven of which came on the half’s final play. The 28-7 lead at the break allowed Zionsville to cruise to a 31-23 victory on the final night of the regular season.
“We made every mistake possible,” Avon coach Mark Bless said. “We had delayed snaps. We had fumbles, and offensively we just put our defense in a bind. When you can’t get a first down and move the chains it just gives them good field position.”
Zionsville (7-2) turned the ball over on downs on its first possession, but they pinned the Orioles (5-4) deep in their own territory. A three-and-out meant Zionsville started its second drive on the Avon 43.
The short field was enough as Zionsville moved 43 yards in five plays and went ahead 7-0 when John Naumcheff caught an 8-yard fade route from Parker Dunshee for a touchdown. The lead was short-lived, however, as Avon executed a perfect reverse on the ensuing kickoff and Devyn Mikell went 96 yards for the tying touchdown.
A big second quarter allowed Zionsville to build its advantage to 28-7 thanks to three touchdowns within a 10 minute span. Steven Wisnewski twice topped drives with short touchdown runs, while Avon’s biggest play of the half, a 15-yard pass to Jalen Edwards was fumbled to Zionsville at the Orioles’ 46-yard line.
Scott Penola, who carried the ball six times for 29 yards, capped Zionsville’s ensuing drive after the fumble with a 6-yard TD run 25 seconds before halftime to make it 28-7.
“That was just an outstanding half,” Zionsville coach Larry McWhorter said. “We had a couple of big plays and the turnover on the screen pass set up our last touchdown and kept them from getting the momentum and it turned out to be really important.”
The second half, specifically the fourth quarter, saw Avon make a furious comeback after it struggled to move the ball all night long. Zionsville only added a 30-yard field goal from Jack Grider, but Avon found the end zone on offense early in the quarter. Cole Johnson pushed his way in from a yard out with 10:16 left to cap a nine-play, 81-yard drive and he found Sam Bloom for the two-point conversion to make it 31-15.
Avon then got a few stops and made things more interesting with 2:51 left. Nolan Wulle caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Johnson and Brian Stinnett caught the conversion pass to suddenly make it 31-23.
Avon’s defense then rose to the occasion and forced a three-and-out and got the ball back and thanks to two timeouts and an incomplete pass, with only 2:35 left. The Orioles got as far as midfield before Ben Kocher intercepted a long pass by Johnson at the 10-yard line and returned it 80 yards with 59 seconds left to finally seal the game.
“I think their team found a little emotion that they didn’t have earlier in the game and they found some rhythm with some plays they didn’t run in the first half,” McWhorter said.
Avon heads to postseason play and faces off against Decatur Central at 7 p.m. this Friday at home. The Orioles could meet the Eagles again in the sectioanl finals if both teams advance through their halves of the bracket.