After the week's semistate games were completed, Cathedral coach Bill Peebles told Zionsville coach Scott Turnquist he would rather see any other team in the state championship game.
“I’d rather see somebody different,” said Peebles, whose Cathedral team knocked off Zionsville 46-28 in the Class 5A state title game a year ago. “Especially if you lost the year before, I think you are excited because you have the revenge factor a little bit and you know what to expect. If you are the team that won the year before, that’s not who you want to play. Last year they gave us everything we wanted and they do have that revenge factor.”
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Turnquist believes Peebles is being truthful when he says he would rather play a different team. He also knows Peebles is holding a royal flush at the poker table. Top-ranked Cathedral (13-1) is loaded, maybe not quite as explosive as last year on offense, but better on defense. In five tournament wins, the Irish have allowed just 34 points.
The only team to knock off Cathedral this season is Center Grove, the seventh-ranked team in the country by USA Today, which needed a second-half comeback to secure a 21-6 win.
“He ain’t lying,” Turnquist said with a smile. “He might be embellishing a bit. But I’m very proud of our team and very proud of our coaching staff and what they have developed into. We went through a lot of ups and downs and growing pains throughout the season and it’s all kind of culminated into getting us back where everybody wants to be. I know Bill and his staff and his team operate at as high of a level as any team in every way. They are a measuring stick. We know we’re going to have to play really well.”
Zionsville had some success throwing the ball against Cathedral in last year’s game, accounting for 304 yards through the air and staying in striking range at 29-21 midway through the third quarter. The Eagles have a different quarterback this year, actually two quarterbacks in Luke Murphy and Christian Abney, and have had more success running the ball during tournament play.
Gage Benkert has carried the load at running back the past two games for Zionsville, but senior Colin Price should be available on Friday.
“Sometimes you get into the game and something is working and you roll with it,” Turnquist said. “We don’t go with a plan against Michigan City and Dwenger saying we’re going to rush for 250 or 300 yards. We want to be balanced. We’re going to try to find some things that work and find some ways to move the ball. Keeping the ball in our possession is going to be huge.”
Here is a closer look at the Class 5A title game:
Zionsville (9-5) vs. Cathedral (13-1)
Zionsville unranked; Cathedral No. 1
7 p.m. Friday, at Lucas Oil Stadium
How to watch
Bally Sports Indiana and IHSAAtv.org
Zionsville is making its fifth state championship appearance and aiming for its third state title (won Class 3A in 1987 and ’96). Cathedral is making a state-record 17th state championship game appearance and looking for its 14th state championship, which ranks second in state history.
Zionsville coach Scott Turnquist, 40, is in his third season at Zionsville with a 21-18 record. He is a Montana native and played football at Montana State. Turnquist was an assistant at Zionsville from 2006-10 and then eight years at Carmel prior to taking the Zionsville job.
Cathedral coach Bill Peebles, 52, is in his fourth year at Cathedral with a 39-11 record. He is 113-76 overall in his time at Southport (11 years), Lawrence Central (two years) and Cathedral. He graduated from Cathedral in 1988, winning a state championship as a player in 1986. He played at the University of Evansville and coached there in 1993 and ’94 before coming to Cathedral as an assistant for 10 years. He was hired at Southport in 2005.
A closer look at Zionsville
The Eagles are one of two Hoosier Crossroads Conference teams playing in the state finals (Westfield the other). The Eagles, who were also 4-5 last season before making a run to the state finals, scored 35 points or more in all five tournament games and matched a season high for points in a 52-21 win over Michigan City in the semistate.
Zionsville is led on offense by senior running backs Colin Price (1,656 rushing yards, 26 TDs) and Gage Bankert (797 yards, four TDs). Sophomore Luke Murphy (1,421 passing yards, 13 TDs) and junior Christian Abney (637 passing yards, six TDs) have shared time at quarterback and senior receiver Trey Firestone (54 catches, 803 yards, 10 TDs) and senior tight end Gunnar Hartwig (30 catches, 407 yards, two TDs) are top targets. Senior linebackers Otto Kyler (75 tackles, seven for a loss) and Owen Rossell (68 tackles) are top tacklers.
A closer look at Cathedral
Cathedral is fourth in the state in points allowed per game (8.4) and 12th in average margin of victory (27.3). The Irish have played three other state finalists this season, defeating Westfield (6A) 14-0 and Brebeuf Jesuit (3A) 45-21. Cathedral lost to Center Grove (6A) 21-6. The Irish knocked off one top-10 opponent in the tournament, defeating No. 2 Decatur Central 31-7 in the sectional championship.
Cathedral is led on offense by sophomore quarterback Danny O’Neil (2,601 passing yards, 29 TDs), senior running back Seth Mencer (968 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and junior receiver Jaron Tibbs (56 catches, 880 yards, seven TDs). The defense is led by seniors Bryce Llewellyn (65 tackles, eight interceptions), Jeff Utzinger (61 tackles, 12 ½ for a loss) and Hudson Miller (63 tackles, nine sacks) and junior lineman Kendrick Gilbert (42 tackles, five sacks).
How Zionsville can win
Air it out. OK, maybe not completely. But Zionsville had some success against Cathedral through the air a year ago and might look to get Firestone and Hartwig involved. Establishing a running game would be big, but no one has really done it against Cathedral, which is allowing just 47 rushing yards per game.
How Cathedral can win
Play clean. If the Irish take care of the ball and are solid on special teams, it seems like the rest would take care of itself. The defense is outstanding.
Cathedral 31, Zionsville 17
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IHSAA football state finals Class 5A preview: Cathedral vs. Zionsville