No Price, no problem for Eagles en route to second straight state title game
Class 5A No. 12 Zionsville 52, No. 10 Michigan City 21
By Paul Honeycutt
MICHIGAN CITY — The Zionsville Eagles have been in this spot before.
They have had five regular-season losses, but somehow made their way to the state title game.
Last year at 6-5, they won the Class 5A Northern Semistate by beating Valparaiso 27-9 and on Friday night, they came up and defeated another powerful Duneland Athletic team in Class 5A No. 10 Michigan City 52-21 in dominating fashion.
Winners of five straight, the No. 12 Eagles (9-5) have dealt with some injuries to key positions, but they have shown that depth is key come this time of year.
Earlier in the year, starting QB Christian Abney was injured in Week 3’s 42-21 loss to Class 6A No. 2 Westfield when he broke his collarbone and it’s no coincidence that Zionsville hasn’t lost since he has been back.
“This is the best Christian has looked since he’s been back,” Zionsville coach Scott Turnquist said. “He hung in there and made some plays with his feet.
The Eagles were without senior star tailback Colin Price, who has rushed for 1,656 yards and 22 TDs and has recorded six 100-yard games this season. According to Zionsville coach Scott Turnquist, Price will give it a go next week in the state finals against No. 1 Indy Cathedral this Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern down at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
It turned out that fellow senior tailback Gage Bankert was up to the challenge, as he ran for 250 yards on 23 carries and a couple touchdowns, one of which coming on a 16-yarder with 6:51 left in the second quarter after Abney kept the drive alive by completing a 22-yard pass to senior Trey Firestone after fumbling the snap.
“Gage is a super reliable running back and we’re thankful that he can step in a contribute at any point,” said Abney.
Michigan City was also without one of its stars in sophomore running back Jaden Hart, who had 860 rushing yards and 10 TDs as well as 207 receiving yards with a couple more TDs.
“No doubt about it, I would’ve liked to have had him, he would’ve helped a little bit,” Michigan City coach Phil Mason said.
Winners of seven straight coming into semistate, the host Wolves struck first with a 31-yard field goal from junior Andrew Oleksiuk, but then the Eagles responded with back-to-back first quarter scores, including one on a 73-yard connection between Abney and senior tight end Gunnar Hartwig, who lined up out wide and wrestled a 50-50 ball away from Michigan City defensive back Kennon Tucker, Jr. and then ran in untouched.
Michigan City answered with its own big-play ability after sophomore quarterback Tyler Bush threw an absolute dime to former-QB-turned-WR Gio Laurent on a 21-yard fade route to the back corner of the end zone for the touchdown to make it 14-9 with 9:52 left in the first half.
Bush went 15-33 with 285 passing yards and three touchdowns, including two to Laurent and one on 77-yarder to senior Omarion Hatch, who was able to outrun the defense after a short, quick pass. Hatch finished with seven receptions for 203 yards and 57 rushing yards on six carries.
“They have athletes that can play everywhere and No. 20 (Hatch), man, he’s really something,” said Turnquist. “He was a problem for us all night.”
Bush’s counterpart Abney finished with 154 passing yards on 6-of-10 with three touchdown passes while rushing for 71 yards and another score. Firestone finished with 78 receiving yards on four catches and an 11-yard TD.
Zionsville lost to the same No. 1 Fighting Irish in the state finals last year by a 46-28 final. The Irish have lost just two games in the last two years, both at the hands of Class 6A No. 1 and national-top-ten-ranked Center Grove, who also just advanced to the 6A state final and have won 27 straight.
However, the Eagles have gone undefeated ever since a 49-46 double-overtime road loss to Fishers to end the regular season and Turnquist said it has been a lightning rod.
“Our record is misleading because we have hung with the best teams in the conference and ever since that loss the team has taken ownership of their mistakes and have played much better,” he said. “Cathedral is one of the best and we have a difficult challenge ahead, but the guys up front have been playing so hard and have been playing better together.”