GREENFIELD – It wasn’t always pretty, but a Greenfield-Central team that has grinded out games all season long did it once again to advance in the IHSAA Class 4A Sectional 22 quarterfinals.
In a roller coaster of a game, a late score by the Cougars gave them a 34-28 victory over the visiting Pendleton Heights Arabians at Hancock Health Stadium Friday.
The regular season matchup between the two teams saw Greenfield-Central walk away with a 35-0 win. This time was much different.
“Pendleton is a very well-coached team, and when you get into playoff football, it doesn’t matter what happened the previous nine weeks. It’s win or go home, and they battled us to the end,” Greenfield-Central head coach Travis Nolting said. “Our kids just stepped up, and I’m proud of the effort in the second half.”
The turning point of the game came midway through the third quarter after a Greenfield-Central fumble led to a 33-yard touchdown return by the Arabians.
On the Cougars next drive, they faced a fourth-and-long. A bad snap led to punter Aaron Lee scooping up the ball and scrambling for the momentum-changing first down.
“I actually called a fake punt, but it got snapped over the guy’s head. We thought we could get the upback, Brad Allen, but Aaron Lee just made a heck of a play. He’s a very fast kid and a good athlete,” Nolting said. “We were all hanging on the seat of our pants right there. It was a critical point in the game, and a heads-up play by Aaron to make something out of it on a bad snap. Football is a game of inches and momentum. It was just a situation where that helped us a lot and hurt them.”
From there, the Cougars did what they have done to teams all season long. Nolting’s offense wore the Arabians down defensively. The Cougars ran the ball 70 times, and led in time of possession by more than 15 minutes.
Leading that rushing attack was senior Andrew Zellers. He carried the ball 36 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winning score.
In a 28-28 game, Greenfield-Central controlled the ball from the 7:30 mark of the fourth quarter on before Zellers eventual 7-yard game-winning run.
“Andrew did a good job back there, he can pretty much play anywhere,” Nolting said. “I’m proud of the effort, for sure.”
Zellers was tasked with playing the running back position tonight instead of his normal position at full back due to injuries on the Greenfield-Central offense.
After a first quarter 46-yard run, senior Owen Anderson re-injured a shoulder that has been nagging him the last few weeks, and was held out the remainder of the game. Add that to an already depleted backfield missing senior Brayden Herrell, and Nolting was forced to get creative.
“We’ve struggled with injuries all year and lost some more guys tonight. That was a huge blow. You start off missing a guy like Brayden Herrell, and then you lose Owen, that’s tough to recover from,” Nolting said. “You’ve got a situation where you’re trying to platoon guys to keep them fresh, but then you have to play a lot of guys two ways, and that wears them down quicker. We just had more in the tank and were able to finish it out.”
Defensively, a team that shut out Pendleton Heights in the regular season, didn’t look the same. For Nolting, that was a combination of injuries, an improved opponent, and some defensive breakdowns.
“It’s a little of all of the above. Brodie Mayberry was back, but he’s been out a while so conditioning was a factor there. Lane Wadle is playing both ways, Will Dejarnett is banged up, we lost Owen, Andrew isn’t 100%, and we were without Brayden,” Nolting said. “When you start looking at it from every direction, they’re better now, they’re well-coached, and they had an opportunity to come out with nothing to lose. When we played them the first time, we had 100% of our guys, so it makes a huge difference.”
Something Nolting has preached all year long has been the importance of avoiding mistakes. Even in the win, it’s something that hurt the Cougars once again. A fumble returned for a touchdown, a score called back due to holding, and a personal foul leading to a Pendleton Heights touchdown are things Nolting has been trying to avoid.
“We had some penalties and things that weren’t great, but we got those fixed, and we responded. Those kinds of things just absolutely hurt us,” Nolting said. “We’re dealing with young high school kids, and you’re trying to get them to do the right thing most of the time, but football is an emotional game, and sometimes you lose your composure. Those things have got to be corrected.”
Greenfield-Central will travel to New Palestine next Friday to take on the Dragons in the sectional semifinals.