BY WILL WILLEMS
For the Daily Reporter
ZIONSVILLE — The defenses stole the show in the opening-round matchup of Sectional 12 between the Zionsville Eagles and Greenfield-Central Cougars.
The two teams combined to force 11 turnovers and had 13 sacks on Friday night at St. Vincent’s Health Stadium. The difference in the game proved to be what Zionsville was able to do off their turnovers, as the Eagles took advantage of more of their opportunities in a 40-14 win.
“The pressure we were able to put on them was fantastic,” Zionsville head coach Pat Echeverria said. “Our guys up front were awesome and our secondary did a good job of staying on top of their receivers and not giving up the big play. We did some really good things tonight. Obviously we did some silly things with the penalties and turnovers, but our defense stole the show tonight.”
The Eagles special teams stole the show in the first quarter.
Greenfield-Central went three-and-out on their first two drives, and Zionsville had great field position twice. First, J.P. Clark blocked a punt and recovered at the Cougar 14, and after the second drive, a 13-yard punt gave the ball to Zionsville at midfield.
But the Eagles weren’t able to capitalize with touchdowns, settling for field goals of 36- and 41-yards by Chris Freeman and a 6-0 lead.
The second quarter became a turnover fest.
The teams combined to throw six interceptions in the final 12:30 of the first half. Zionsville was able to capitalize on their turnovers, getting a 35-yard touchdown run from Nick Brier and a 13-yard run from Tommy Fossett to make it 19-0.
Greenfield-Central had a chance to get on the board themselves off an interception late in the second quarter, but Cole Pierce’s field goal was blocked by Johnny Scales.
In the first half, Zionsville had a 163-39 advantage in total yards gained, including an 86 to minus-7 advantage in rushing. For the game, the Cougars had 28 carries for negative-23 yards.
“We struggled to run the ball, and that was our plan coming in,” Greenfield-Central head coach Adam Sherman said. “We thought we matched up decent and they came out in what we wanted them to, they just stuffed us. We missed a couple field goals that could have kept us in the game, and had a pick for a touchdown that made the score look worse than it was. Our defense was phenomenal, but we just couldn’t get out of our own way. It was just that kind of night.”
Down 19-0, the Cougars attempted on onside kick to start the second half and failed, setting the Eagles up with a short field that they capitalized on five plays later on a 25-yard run by Tommy Fossett to make it 26-0.
The Cougars responded with a touchdown drive of their own, going 44 yards in 14 plays and scoring on a 1-yard run by Andrew Leslie. But any momentum the visitors hoped to gain was washed away a short time later, when the Eagles scored on the ensuing drive, getting a 7-yard pass from Sam Monachino to Joel DeCoursey to make it 33-7.
Zionsville added a 79-yard pick six from Nick Nelson in the fourth quarter to make it 40-7, before Leslie found Chase Ratliff for a 19-yard score with a minute left to cap the scoring.
It was a tough final game as a Cougar for Leslie who was 22 of 43 for 168 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions. He added 16 carries for minus-26 yards.
He was one of 19 seniors, but a good portion of the Cougars will be back next year and will have the experience of being in Class 5A for the first time.
“We had a great senior class and I love them all; I wish we had another week with them,” Sherman said. “I think tonight was great for us moving forward. We got a lot of young guys experience tonight. This was a different taste of something we haven’t seen before. Zionsville is an established 5A school and a lot bigger than we are. Moving forward we have to up our game.”
Zionsville advances to the sectional semifinal next week, where they will host Anderson.