By Jake Thompson
AVON — After his team’s semifinal sectional matchup with Avon Wednesday night, Brownsburg boys’ soccer coach Todd Frost shrugged his shoulders and said “I have never seen a game like it.”
Both teams played extremely hard and displayed the typical good sportsmanship and mutual respect that has become the hallmark of this rivalry.
But the game between the two top teams in the county was marred by stoppages of play and a litany of fouls that certainly affected the outcome.
The contest featured 34 fouls, eight yellow cards and four penalty kicks over the course of the game, large numbers for any soccer match.
However, the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs took the brunt of the calls with 26 fouls and six yellow cards in their 5-2 loss to the No. 16-rated Orioles.
According to Avon coach Phil Schmidt, the difference in the contest came down to the Orioles modifying their style of play to suit the game and capitalizing on the situations presented.
“I’ll say that I’m proud of how my guys adjusted the way they played,” he said. “I thought our guys adjusted to the way the referee was calling the game. We kept our composure throughout the night and I thought that was a big key for us.
“We’ve worked hard on playing physical without fouling; not leaving our feet and keeping our arms down. I thought that was a big key to the game tonight with the game being called so close. We played hard and played smart.”
Schmidt also credited the Bullodgs on playing a great game despite the difficult circumstances both teams endured.
"I thought our guys really played hard and played together in what amounted to kind of a weird game that lacked much flow," he said. " We knew it would be a tough game. Brownsburg has an excellent team and coach Frost should be proud of his guys and there season. I'm sure it was tough for them given such difficult circumstances."
Early intensity between both squads set the tone and an early foul by an Avon defender in the box set up the Bulldogs’ first score. Brownsburg’s Jack Griffith slid a penalty shot under Avon goalkeeper Tyler Beam for a 1-0 lead.
Avon’s Lorenzo Aquilar took the first yellow of the night soon after the score and Schmidt set him down for the remainder of the game.
“Our two guys that had yellows, I did not put them back in because I did not want to risk getting anyone sent off,” Schmidt said. “That is a risk you take.”
Avon answered to tie the match just over five minutes after the penalty kick as Sam Camp displayed some fancy footwork and ball control around three Brownsburg defenders in tight to the goal before putting his shot past Brownsburg goalkeeper Patrick Holden.
Two minutes later, the Orioles were awarded a penalty kick -- the second of the game -- and Camp put the Orioles up 2-1, swinging any early momentum the Bulldogs had taken.
With just over 12 minutes left in the half, Brownsburg senior Geno James was given a yellow card that would come back to haunt the Bulldogs later.
Before the end of the half, the Bulldogs’ Troy Hale and Griffith were also given yellow cards. Between those two calls, Avon’s Noah Zorniger booted in another penalty kick and the Orioles led 3-1 heading into the break.
At the half, 23 fouls had been called, three yellows awarded and three penalty kicks taken.
Brownsburg struck first in the second half as a perfect cross from James found a jumping Griffith’s foot and sailed past Beam just six minutes into the half. The Bulldogs had again shifted the momentum into their favor and after a yellow was awarded to Avon’s Bryce Cirbo, Brownsburg almost tied the match on the ensuing free kick attempt by Daniel Johnson.
Johnson’s rocket shot flew just underneath the crossbar where Beam alertly punched the ball above the frame, saving the game-tying goal.
And then the game-changing play occurred at the 31:14 mark.
James was given his second yellow of the contest, equaling a red card, and put Brownsburg a man down for the remainder of the match. The senior walked to the sideline with his hands on his face and fell into Frost’s arms, as the magnitude of the situation began to set in.
“Going down a man put our back up against the wall and it is not an easy haul at that point,” Frost said. “I just feel bad for our guys.”
As James lay on the sideline the roars from the crowd confirmed the worst, Avon’s awarded free kick because of the penalty fell like a dagger in the back of the net. Camp arced his third goal of the night over the Brownsburg wall and past Holden for a 4-2 lead.
“Sam hit a beautiful shot on that free kick to score that goal, give him credit,” Schmidt said.
With frustration mounting, a Brownsburg defender committed a penalty inside the box only one minute later and Avon’s Jordan Kleyn made it 5-2.
Two more yellow cards on Brownsburg followed as they desperately tried to fight back into the match, but Avon’s defense remained solid and denied the effort.
“We talked about turning it up in the state tournament ,” Schmidt said. “We’ve talked about playing harder than we have played at any point this season. If we play hard and play as a team, we can go a long way. We made a great run last year and are hoping to do so this year. ”
Brownsburg not only lost the game but also loses a very talented group of seniors.
“They mean a lot and have given so much to the program,” Frost said. “Their commitment and dedication are great and as always it is going to be sad to see the seniors go.”
Avon takes on Mooresville at 10 a.m. Saturday in a rematch of the final sectional title game last year and looks to bring home its fifth consecutive sectional championship.