The Zionsville Community High School football team has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.
For the second consecutive year, the Eagles reached the Class 5A state title game, losing to Cathedral 34-14 Nov. 26 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Cathedral topped Zionsville 46-28 in the 2020 state title game.
“The program is in a great spot right now,” Eagles coach Scott Turnquist said. “Having postseason success in the last two years has helped that a lot. Our seniors have been a driving force for us the last several years. They’re a lot of guys that played a lot of football that have been in pivotal roles and in leadership positions for us the last few years.
“Our coaching staff has been phenomenal, constantly looking at improving what we do on a daily, weekly basis.”
The Eagles will graduate 20 seniors, with more than half being starters.
“It’s a high-performing class in a lot of different ways,” Turnquist said. “It is certainly tough to have them leave us, but they are leaving the program in a good place with younger guys, as well.”
The Eagles (9-6) started the postseason with a 4-5 record, winning five straight to reach the state title game. Zionsville had a record of 2-5 in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference. Westfield, which won the conference title, reached the Class 6A state title game before losing to Center Grove.
“I hope people recognize by now the quality of our conference. It’s unbelievable,” Turnquist said.
Turnquist said there is no looking ahead because each game is difficult.
“Every single week you are playing a team that is at an extremely high level, (is) extremely well coached and is very talented,” he said. “It certainly prepares us for the postseason because we have to learn how to prepare every week as if it’s a championship-level team, because that is the type of team we are playing week in and week out. It makes us better in every way.”
Zionsville defeated Harrison (West Lafayette) 42-21 in the sectional semifinals and Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger 35-14 in the regional final. Harrison was ranked No. 3 in the media rankings and No. 5 in the coaches poll. Dwenger was ranked No. 9 in the coaches poll.
Among the top seniors the Eagles are losing is senior offensive tackle Joey Tanona, who has recently reaffirmed his commitment to Notre Dame despite Brian Kelly leaving to become LSU’s coach.
Turnquist said he expects other seniors to play college football, including running back Colin Price, receiver Trey Firestone, tight end Gunnar Hartwig and kicker/punter A.J. Vinatieri, son of former Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Price rushed for 1,698 yards and 26 touchdowns.
“He’s the best running back that has ever laced them up at Zionsville, there’s no doubt about that,” Turnquist said. “He’s a complete football player.”
Hartwig had 32 catches for 415 yards.
Firestone had seven catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game to give him 61 receptions for 937 yards and 12 TDs for the season.
One freshman who saw action in the state final was receiver Eugene Hilton, who is the son of Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton caught one pass for nine yards.
The Eagles will return two quarterbacks with starting experience in junior Christian Abney and sophomore Luke Murphy.
Abney started the season but broke his collarbone, missing several games. Murphy took over as starter in his absence. They split time when Abney returned, but Abney started in the championship, throwing for 214 yards. For the season, Murphy threw for 1,421 yards and 13 touchdowns. Abney finished with 851 yards and eight TDs.