It felt like November all over again at Ben Davis on Friday night.
Many of the names have changed. The air was much warmer. Otherwise, Class 6A top-ranked Ben Davis’ 49-42 win over sixth-ranked Avon felt a lot like those crazy tournament wins over Warren Central and Center Grove last year en route to the state title.
“Six out of the last seven we’ve had to live like this,” Ben Davis coach Mike Kirschner said. “Avon could have won just as easily as we did.”
Avon certainly had its chance. Behind senior quarterback Brandon Peters, who was 26-for-44 for 381 yards and four touchdowns, the Orioles (1-1) controlled the game for long stretches. But self-inflicted errors – like 16 penalties – and the big plays by Ben Davis were too much to overcome.
“We don’t have anything to hang our heads about,” Avon coach Mark Bless told his team after the game. “Don’t hang your heads.”
Still, it was as tough one to stomach for Avon fans.
Ben Davis running back Chris Evans, a Michigan recruit like Peters, was bottled up much of the night, accounting for just 36 yards on 17 carries. But he finally broke loose on a short reception from Azjai Cooper in the fourth quarter, breaking into the secondary for a scintillating 50-yard touchdown to tie the game 42-42 with 4:40 left.
Avon marched right back to the Ben Davis 25, putting itself in position for a game-winning score. But on second down, Peters was blindsided by linebacker William Pate as he attempted to deliver a pass into the left flat and junior defensive tackle LeShaun Minor picked it off.
Minor, all 6-3, 260 pounds of him, raced 72 yards for a touchdown with 1:48 left.
“Minor is a heck of a football player,” Kirschner said. “He just doesn’t know it yet. Honestly, he doesn’t run like a defensive lineman. He’s 4.8 (seconds) every time we run him (in the 40-yard dash). He’s fast.”
Avon had one last chance but was hurt again by a penalty and turned the ball over on downs. The Orioles lost twice to Ben Davis last year and could see the Giants again in the sectional this fall.
“We played our butts off,” Bless said. “I’m very proud of our players but our mistakes cost us big. We have some areas we have to clean up but I think we can be a very good team. I think we indicated that tonight. If we can play them this well and have opportunities to win the game, then absolutely (we’d like to play them again).”
Peters found favorite targets Andrew Griffin (11 catches for 146 yards) and Matt Moore (nine catches for 116 yards) often in the second half. The Orioles took advantage of a fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter to go ahead 35-28 on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Peters.
But every time it appeared Avon might take control, Ben Davis had an answer. Junior receiver Zion Blow got behind the Avon secondary to reel in a 70-yard pass from Cooper and tie it 35-all with 8:17 to play.
Peters made it look easy again on the next drive, completing all five of his pass attempts. The final one was a 14-yarder to Griffin, who made a great adjustment on the ball, to make it 49-42 with 5:54 left.
The other Michigan recruit then made his play of the game. Evans took a pass from Cooper and darted into the open on the left side of the field. He set up the defensive back at around the 10-yard-line, juked to his right and into the end zone.
“Avon made me feel like I was in a box (most of the game),” Evans said. “If I went to (the bathroom), it felt like somebody was going to come with me. I was just happy I got a lot of green grass and got to be able to score there. It was a good feeling.”
It was a feeling Ben Davis has experienced a lot lately. The Giants beat Warren Central (40-36 in the regional) and Center Grove (49-45 in the semistate) in similar games last season.
“The seniors had a heart-to-heart conversation in the locker room,” Evans said. “After we got everybody on the same page, everybody came together.”
A rematch down the road would be fun. Most seemed on board with that idea. Kirschner was not. Not yet anyway.
“Anybody else can play them,” he said. “That’d be fine with me.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
Ben Davis 49, Avon 42
Avon 14 14 0 14 — 42
Ben Davis 14 7 7 21 — 49
Ben Davis – Jermaine Hoskins 25 pass from Azjai Cooper (Shawn Skiles kick)
Avon – Andrew Griffin 15 pass from Brandon Peters (Sam Pirino kick)
Ben Davis – Reese Taylor 77 pass from Cooper (Skiles kick)
Avon – Corey DuPriest 55 run (Pirino kick)
Avon – Harrison Weber 65 pass from Peters (Pirino kick)
Ben Davis – Jordan Wilkerson 93 kickoff return (Skiles kick)
Avon – Matt Moore 12 pass from Peters (Pirino kick)
Ben Davis – Chris Evans 1 run (Skiles kick)
Avon – Peters 1 run (Pirino kick)
Ben Davis – Zion Blow 70 pass from Cooper (Skiles kick)
Avon – Griffin 14 pass from Peters (Pirino kick)
Ben Davis – Evans 50 pass from Cooper (Skiles kick)
Ben Davis – Minor 73 interception return (Skiles kick)
Total Net Yards
Rushing – Avon, DuPriest 9-95, Bryant Fitzgerald 7-29, Darian Love 7-23, Peters 10-21. Ben Davis, Evans 17-36, Jeremiah Whitthorne 9-24, Stori Emerson 1-0, Noah Thomas 1-(-3), Alphonso Howard 2-(-5), Cooper 4-(-30).
Passing — Avon, Peters 26-44-2 381. Ben Davis, Cooper 11-17-0 255, Howard 1-2-0 0.
Receiving — Avon, Griffin 11-146, Moore 9-116, Weber 4-88, Jordan Peterson 2-22. Ben Davis, Taylor 1-73, Blow 2-70, Evans 4-66, Hoskins 1-25, Thomas 2-11, Emerson 2-10.