In a series that’s been nothing if not entertaining, Zion Christian traveled Friday night to southeast Tennessee and played yet another nailbiter against Sale Creek.
The Eagles ran out to an early lead, but had to hold on late for a 48-42 victory over the Panthers at Fort Bluff in Dayton. Max Brown’s interception in the end zone inside the final minute helped seal the outcome.
“That’s a huge win for us,” Zion Christian coach Brad Lowery said. “It’s a great confidence builder on top of the confidence builder we had last week. The win last week gave us a little bit of momentum in practice. I think they’re beginning to understand now what they can do.”
For Zion (2-2), the win was the fourth in as many games against Sale Creek – all decided by single digits, including last year’s 29-28 decision at Holcomb Field – and was the second in as many outings, following a 36-0 victory over the visiting Memphis Nighthawks on Sept. 4.
As in the prior win, Luke Perko’s fingerprints were all over this one as well. The junior quarterback ran and threw for a combined 345 yards and five touchdowns, including a 40-yard hookup with Sam Sullivan late in the third period for the eventual gamewinner.
“This last two weeks, it’s beginning to make sense for Luke,” Lowery said of the first-year starter. “I think the game has slowed down for him, and the guys have rallied around him. He made a couple of plays early that gave us some momentum, and not just on offense.
“Luke’s been a catalyst, and Sam had a breakout game. He was a huge factor offensively. Sam did what Sam can do. He’s beginning to believe in himself.”
Sullivan had three scoring receptions, finishing with five catches for 131 yards, and added a 59-yard rushing TD.
Zion overcame four fumbles – one of which was recovered for a Sale Creek score — to earn the road win. Despite outgaining the visitors, Sale Creek fell to 0-4 with the loss, as Brown’s interception was the final of four times the Eagle defense got off the field in the red zone; two of those were inside their own 5-yard line.
“Defensively, we played about as well as we can play, being outmatched like we were,” Lowery said. “The kids fought hard.”
The Eagles return home for a Friday matchup with Lakeway Christian, a first-year program out of Jefferson County.
Zion Chr. 48, Sale Creek 42
at Fort Bluff, Dayton, Tenn.
ZC 20 22 6 0 – 48
SC 14 14 6 8 – 42
SC – Braden Penny 49 run (9:55), Penny run
ZC – Sam Sullivan 8 pass from Luke Perko (6:47), Sam Duffy run
SC – B. Penny 81 run (5:49), pass failed
ZC – Perko 48 run (4:46), pass failed
ZC – Sullivan 20 pass from Perko (4:27), kick failed
SC – B. Penny 12 run (9:09), pass failed
ZC – Perko 73 run (7:08), Davis Duffy pass from Perko
ZC – Sullivan 59 run (3:53), Wesley Riggins kick
ZC – Joshua Harrison 18 run (2:26), Riggins kick
SC – Cam Penny 69 pass from B. Penny (1:31), Drew Hillion run
SC – Race May fumble recovery in end zone (2:12), pass failed
ZC – Sullivan 40 pass from Perko (1:23), kick failed
SC – Will Roberts 4 run (7:56), Roberts run
First downs 14 20
Rushes-yards 23-257 41-201
Passing yards 169 237
Comps-Atts-Ints 6-13-0 13-23-1
Penalties-yards 10-71 0-0
Fumbles-lost 4-4 4-4
Zion Chr. – Luke Perko 12-176, Sam Duffy 6-7, Davis Duffy 1-(-11), Sam Sullivan 3-67, Joshua Harrison 1-18
Zion Chr. – Luke Perko 6-13-0, 169
Zion Chr. – Davis Duffy 1-38, Sam Sullivan 5-131