By Travis Miller Sports Correspondent
Zionsville Times Sentinel
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Coming into Friday night’s IHSAA Class 5A Sectional 13 semifinal the Zionsville Eagles faced a very tall task.
No. 5 rated Indianapolis Cathedral entered with 19-straight tournament wins and 29 of their last 30 on their way to winning four class 4A state championships in five years before moving up to 5A.
For 46 minutes, the Eagles played them even, despite starting quarterback Joshua Hinkle leaving in the first quarter with a serious injury. But, Cathedral scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 2:03 minutes to earn a hard fought 35-21 victory.
“This is certainly a tough one to go out on,” Zionsville coach Larry McWhorter said, who was coaching his final game for the Eagles after 18 years. “I hate to leave with this. This is a nice bunch of kids and really hard working, but I hate to see it end like this.”
The worst moment of the night, however, involved Hinkle.
With 1:12 left in the first quarter and Zionsville trailing 7-0 Hinkle kept the ball on a read option, but took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit that left him prone on the turf for several minutes.
Hinkle had to be removed from the field via ambulance and his status was not known by the end of the game.
The injury forced sophomore Trevor Leichty into action, and the Eagles did not waste time testing the defense with him. On the very first play after a lengthy delay for the injury, Leichty found Ben Kocher for a 52-yard playaction touchdown pass.
“I am very proud of him,” McWhorter said. “He probably didn’t expect to play much, but he performed extremely well. He really only made one mistake, but he is young, and he will learned from that.”
Riding the momentum of the score, the Zionsville defense got a stop, but the offense was pinned on its own 6 yard line after a solid punt by Cathedral.
Taking over with 8:41 left in the first half, the Eagle offense went on its best drive of the season as it moved 94 yards in 22 plays, converting several third downs and even two fourth downs. Matt Peñola capped the drive on a fourth down, 1-yard scoring dive with eight seconds left to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead at the half.
Zionsville got the ball to start the second half but turned the ball over on downs when it got stuffed at midfield. The Irish then marched 50 yards in seven plays to tie the score at 14 when Collin Barthel found Zach Saum on a fourth down TD pass from two yards out.
The Eagles were able to get the score back, however, when Liechty found C.J. Anyaebunam for a 70-yard scoring pass. Liechty was forced out of the pocket and threw on the run, but Anyaebunam came back for the ball and scored when two defenders ran into each other.
That score came with 5:33 left in the third and put Zionsville in front 21-14, and it looked like the Eagles would get more after Brandon Wilson intercepted a tipped pass near midfield.
The Irish recovered a fumble at the Zionsville 39 yard line on the next play, though, and scored on a Barthel sneak seven plays later.
“I have to give Cathedral a lot of credit because they did what they had to do,” McWhorter said. “I was very pleased with our offense but a little disappointed with our defense. We were going up against some pretty good personnel though.”
Zionsville took over with 2:02 left in the third quarter and was able to drive to the Cathedral 10 yard line with 11:20 left in the game, but missed a 28-yard field goal. From there it was Cathedral’s turn for a lengthy, clock-killing drive.
The Irish were able to march 80 yards in 18 plays and take more than nine minutes off the clock before Barthel found Dan Dolen for a 7-yard TD pass with 2:03 left. Twice on the drive Cathedral went for it on fourth down and converted, including a fourth and five near midfield where Evan Whigham caught pass behind the line of scrimmage and broke three tackles to get the first down.
Zionsville had a final chance and reached midfield after a pair of first downs, but with just more than a minute left Austin Compton intercepted Leichty and returned it 55 yards for a clinching score.
Leichty finished the night completing on 13 of 20 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Kocher also caught seven passes for 112 yards.