AVON — After two straight weeks of faltering in the second halves of their games led to the Orioles’ first two losses of the year, Avon needed to rebound against Noblesville to get its season back on track.
Sustaining focus throughout those games was a problem for Avon and against the Millers, the Orioles were not granted any favors by Friday’s inclement weather, which pushed the game to 10 a.m. Saturday.
But Avon responded to the adversity, returning to its winning ways with a 28-14 win over Noblesville.
“I was real happy how we made some plays today,” Avon coach Mark Bless said. “The last two weeks we have all been a little sensitive and fragile, because we believe we are better than we are performing. We had two set backs but our players stayed focused this week in practice.”
Through five games, the Orioles have had to solidify some positions due to injuries and other circumstances and Bless remarked last week after the Brownsburg loss he needed players to step up and take command of their positions.
Quarterback Cole Johnson had been splitting time with Richie Steinmetz, but Johnson played the entire game for the Orioles against the Millers and performed very well. Johnson completed 7 of 14 passes for 146 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.
“It was really a team performance today,” Johnson said. “When everyone does the right things, it opens things up. On a couple of those passes to Jalen (Edwards) I have to give credit to the tight end. He ran off the defender and that is the type of unselfish play that allowed things to open up.”
According to Bless, several other players came through on both sides of the ball with regards to position changes and new rotations. One of those that contributed heavily was Edwards.
“I am a senior and all seniors have to step up and not be selfish and go out and do a good job,” Edwards said. “I feel like our offensive line did an amazing job today and every single on of them deserve the credit. When it’s your number on our team, you’ve got to step up and make plays.”
With injuries at the running back position, Edwards filled in and split time with Cody Baker and Derrick Tennant and at the receiving spot, he reeled in two of Johnson’s TD strikes, one from 14 yards out to begin the game and another 53-yarder near the end of the half.
Avon’s defense harassed and applied pressure to Noblesville quarterback T.C. McKiernan all day. Elijah Daniel led the Orioles’ charge with a sack and several tackles for loss.
“Elijah played extremely well chasing the quarterback around,” Bless said. “We made some moves with some personnel, not to take somebody’s place but to change things up. Chad (Scaggs) did a nice job on defense along with Jake Higginbotham who is playing offensive guard and now a bit of nose tackle.”
Avon went up 7-0 in the first after a 74-yard opening kickoff return by Dhane Thomas put the Orioles on Noblesville’s 25-yard line. Johnson hit Edwards for a 14-yard strike four plays after that.
Noblesville answered in the second with a 5-yard TD run by Trace Bulger.
With 4:01 left in the second, Johnson hit Matt Betustak for an 8-yard TD after rolling out to his right and throwing to his receiver on a crossing route.
Avon’s defense held the Millers to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, getting the ball back for the offense.
The Orioles wasted no time scoring as Johnson loaded up the deep ball for Edwards, this time on a 53-yard strike and Avon led 21-7 at the half.
Bless attempted an onside kick to begin the third, but it backfired. The Millers recovered with good field position and drove 59 yards on 12 plays as McKiernan plunged in from the 1, pulling Noblesville within seven.
“That was a little bit of a gamble on my part and I’ll take the blame,” Bless said of the onside attempt. “We saw something on film that we thought was there. It backfired on us.”
Avon struggled offensively in the third, running six plays for no yards, but the Orioles’ defense stood tall and only allowed one score.
The Orioles tried to extend their lead with a 27-yard field goal attempt from the right hash by Nyles Edwards, but a very stiff wind helped push the ball wide left.
Avon took over with 6:19 left in the game needing to make it a two score contest and performed under the pressure.
Johnson and Derrick Tennant moved Avon 26 yards on six rushing attempts before Johnson found tight end Sam Bloom down the seam for a 37-yard touchdown pass. That score sealed the win for Avon.
“It feels great. It feels to get back to winning,” Johnson said. “We didn’t win our rivalry game, but that’s not the end goal. We’ve got a bigger picture on our minds.”