Facing one of Class 6A’s top teams on its the road, one year removed from a 22-21 upset victory, Whiteland’s football team knew it would have to execute almost perfectly to win Friday.
That didn’t happen for the Warriors, literally from the opening kickoff.
The Orioles’ Isaac Guerendo returned the game’s first kick 91 yards for a touchdown, and things snowballed from there for Whiteland. Avon, ranked seventh in the latest Class 6A poll, built a 39-0 second-quarter lead and added to it from there for a 63-7 victory.
Last year, the Warriors edged the Orioles, Whiteland’s lone win in the past seven meetings between the schools. This year, Avon dismissed any thoughts of a Warriors victory right away.
That opening kickoff wasn’t the Orioles’ only special-teams score. Jalen Peterson gave Avon bookend first-half kick return scores when he ran one back 86 yards with 1:04 to play, right after Whiteland scored its lone touchdown.
Facing fourth-and-1 on the Orioles’ 47-yard line, Ryan Hammond busted through the line and broke a couple of tackles for a touchdown run.
“We talked about being precise about where the ball was kicked,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said, referring to the kickoff returns. “Directional kicking and punting are big for us. Nothing happened out there that we don’t practice on a regular basis, but apparently we need to practice those things better. That’s on me, and that’s on all of us.”
Even great defensive plays ultimately backfired for Whiteland. Cody Bullock intercepted Avon’s Cameron Misner on the Orioles’ first possession from scrimmage, but he brought the ball out of the end zone and was tackled at the Whiteland 5-yard line. After a false start, a 2-yard loss, a 1-yard gain and a delay of game penalty, Avon gang-tackled Matt Luechtefeld in the end zone for a safety, giving the Orioles a 10-0 lead.
Avon had little trouble moving the ball on offensive plays from scrimmage, either, scoring touchdowns on its next three possessions after the safety. Misner completed 10 of 15 passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns before exiting midway through the third quarter.
Sampson James rushed for 106 yards on 15 carries for Avon (4-1), while Guerendo and Luke Shayotovich each caught two of Misner’s touchdown passes.
Hammond led Whiteland (1-4) with 59 yards on six carries. The Warriors managed just 134 yards of total offense and failed to convert their first eight third-down tries.
“If you don’t play as fast as you possibly can play, if one guy takes a block to the wrong side, a good team will expose any weakness,” Fisher said.