GREENWOOD, Ind. – Brandon Peters laid on the ground at the goal line, living his greatest high school football moment.
Yet it may have been the most physically painful.
The Avon, Ind., senior quarterback, who is committed to Michigan for the 2016 class, had just used a second effort quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 to put his team ahead by a touchdown, 34-27, in double-overtime on Cedar Grove’s home field.
But he wasn’t moving much as his teammates cleared out for the extra point.
Eventually he got to his knees, then got up and slowly walked off the field — his coach Mark Bless later saying “it just knocked the air out of him” — expecting at worst to have a third overtime.
But Center Grove matched Peters’ score, then risked the state semifinal 6A game and a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium by going for the two-point conversion. With Peters and his offensive teammates watching from the sidelines, Center Grove ran in the conversion and won the game, ending Avon’s season and Peters’ high school career, 35-34.
It was a game worthy of the stage and he played like it, despite battling undefeated Cedar Grove (13-0).
Peters threw a touchdown to tie the game at 10 just before halftime, led an 80-yard, clock-eating third-quarter drive to take the 17-10 lead and connect on a 47-yard up-and-out route to set up a late go-ahead fourth-quarter field goal at 20-17.
He threw a strike over the middle for the first-overtime touchdown and ran in that last one for the final lead.
Finishing 30 of 48 for 294 yards and two passing touchdowns, plus the nine carries for 4 yards and the rushing score, he performed on the pressure stage.
And all this with his helmet stickers arranged to look like the Michigan winged helmet.
Avon (10-3) was on the verge of reaching its first state final – then it was gone.
There were some close calls in the fourth quarter, a few fourth downs and sideline catches where the inches were on Center Grove’s side, setting them up for the overtime-forcing drive, running a 2-minute drill.
After leading for much of the game and expecting a different result, there were understandably tears for Avon.
But Peters’ quiet leadership – he even went in to try to block Cedar Grove’s final seconds-tying field goal in regulation – was appreciated by his team.
“Everything wasn’t starting to go our way (early) in the passing department, but he was persistent, stuck to his fundamentals and did a heck of a job for us and I’m proud of him,” Bless said. “Center Grove brought some pretty good pressure on him and I thought he handled it well.”
It was a landmark moment for Avon, which had not been this far in the state playoffs in 10 years, and with 34 seniors, the whole community understood this was a moment. Making the 30-45 minute drive they packed the visitor bleachers (which a few Michigan sweatshirts and blankets mixed in) and had a massive student presence as well, hoping to see something more.
“He did a great job, we didn’t get to him as well as we should have,” said Center Grove coach Eric Moore, who said he has a longstanding friendship with U-M coach Jim Harbaugh from when Harbaugh coached at San Diego. “He’s a great player… He was a tough kid. He really threw the ball well.”
Peters was too emotional to talk after the game, but the impact he left on Avon through his college career will linger, even as he heads to Ann Arbor.
“He’s been somebody that’s put us on his back for the past three years,” Bless said. “Coming in as a sophomore and starting, maybe a little intimidated being in the huddle with a bunch of seniors, he learned some lesson, valuable lessons. I thought as a junior really exploded. … As a senior everything he could to help us win.”
The crowd was filled with people who have known Peters for years, even with his eighth-grade coach Chris Gullion on the sidelines, recalling the moments back when Peters began making his impression.
Avon’s community came to Center Grove hoping the night would mean one more game on the biggest stage.
Instead, they left with another reminder of what they’ll be missing when Peters is in Ann Arbor next year.