By Jake Thompson
— With an exciting finish last Friday at Terre Haute, the Avon Orioles propelled themselves into a sectional final match up against the Pike Red Devils at 7 p.m. this Friday at home.
There is definitely familiarity between the two teams as Avon has bounced Pike from postseason play in each of the last three seasons, including Orioles coach Mark Bless’ first with the team in 2010.
“I’m sure there is some (animosity) of that out there,” Bless said. “We are extremely anxious like we are every year up to this point. The livelihood of our team is a stake and when you are practicing to keep
the team alive, Friday night you are playing with everything you have.”
Not only is there history between the two teams, but there is also a common thread between the two coaches. Pike coach Derek Moyers was hired by Bless when he took over as the coach at Mooresville.
“We are good friends,” he said. “I hired him as my first hire when I took over at Mooresville and brought him on right out of college. He was even more energetic than he is now and we’ve developed a close friendship.”
But those three losses have not sat well with the Red Devils as they look to knock off the Orioles this Friday.
“Three years in a row we have lost to Avon in the sectionals and all three years by three points and two of those years have been on the last play of the game,” Moyers said. “There’s definitely a bad taste in our mouth, but they are a very good and well-coached football team.”
Moyers, the former coach at Cascade High School before taking the Pike position in 2007, had nothing but respect for his former mentor.
All personal notes aside, this should be a great contest between two well-coached teams for a sectional title. It will be Avon’s fifth sectional championship game in a row, but the Orioles have only come away with one title in that time.
Pike is well-balanced offensively, rushing for 2,205 yards on the year while passing for 2,040.
“Their quarterback is getting the ball to a lot of different receivers,” Bless said. “They are big up front and what they do, they do well.”
Quarterback Brent Lyles leads the Red Devils and has a 56 percent completion percentage and has thrown for 19 touchdowns on the year with 10 interceptions. Lyles’ favorite receiver is Dominique Booth, who has 59 receptions on the year for 785 yards, a 13.3 average. Booth tallied nine touchdowns through the air. Pike has six receivers with double-digit catches, each averaging over 10 yards per catch.
“Dominique is a Division I kid with several offers out there,” Bless said.
Of Pike’s 2,040 yards on the ground, running back Taylor Sanders has accumulated 1,134 of those, amounting to a 6.8 yards per carry average. Sanders also tallied 13 touchdowns on the season.
Avon’s defense must step up to the challenge of Pike’s high-powered offense that has beaten No. 2-ranked Ben Davis and No. 12-rated Zionsville to get into the finals.
Bless said the Red Devils run pretty much the same defensive scheme the Orioles have faced in the past couple of weeks with their wins over Decatur Central and Terre Haute North.
“Fortunately for us, they run a similar defense that we have seen recently,” Bless said. “It’s a 3-4 look that basically converts into a 5-2 pretty easily. They have good size bodies up front to occupy space and free up their linebackers. Their defensive backs are very athletic and get to the ball very well as a team.”
Defensively, the Red Devils give up an average of 107.82 rushing and 112.55 passing yards per game. Pike’s ball-hawking defense has also forced offenses into 25 interceptions on the year, recovered 10 fumbles and recorded 31 sacks.
Defensive end David Kenney leads Pike with seven sacks and teammate Me’Leick Miles has 5.5. Free safety Tyler Sanders has seven picks for a return average of 32.14 yards with one score. Cornerback Robert Williams has recorded six.
Pike’s (8-3) losses have come at the hands of Ben Davis, No. 1-ranked Lawrence Central and Perry Meridian this season.
“I’m sure two or three weeks ago this (potential) matchup with Pike wasn’t mentioned by a whole lot of people,” Bless said. “I think this is a good relationship. There is a lot of respect between both programs from a coaching and player point of view.”