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Avon wins tough bout over Faulkton Area for 9B title

Josh Jurgens
South Dakota Public Broadcasting

Avon survived a late game surge over Faulkton Area 32-30 on Thursday in Vermillion to win the 2023 9B state championship. For the Pirates, this is their first state football title since 2013.

This was Justin Lukkes first year coaching the Avon football team. He took over for long-time head coach and athletic director Tom Culver, who retired from coaching after last season.

Coach Lukkes was a senior at Avon in 2002 when the Pirates won their very first state championship.

"I’m just as happy now as I was when I played here," Lukkes said. "I’m so happy for the kids, I’m glad they got the job done. It was a tough game. Congratulations to a tough Faulkton team, but our boys stepped up and got it done."

Lukkes also commented on the toughness of the matchup.

"Every time I thought we were getting a little breathing room, they came right back at us," explained Lukkes. "Hats off to them, but we brought it home after 10 years. State champs again, been too long."

Aziah Meyer had a 39-yard return for Avon to start the game, which put the Pirates on the Faulkton Area side of the field. The Trojans defense would come up big, however, forcing a turnover on downs to change the early momentum.

Near the midway point of the first quarter, Layne Cotton connected with Charlie Deiter for a 32-yard touchdown. After a successful two-point try, Faulkton Area had the early 8-0 lead.

The Pirates would use the remaining six minutes of the first quarter driving the ball deep into Trojans territory.

End of the 1st Quarter: Faulkton Area 8 Avon 0

On the first play of the second quarter, Paxton Bierema kept it himself for a 14-yard quarterback keeper that found the end zone. The two-point attempt was good, which tied the game at 8-8.

The Pirates would get the ball back a few minutes later when Landon Thury jumped in front of a Cotton pass for an interception. Avon was unable to take advantage of the turnover, though, as communication errors littered their offensive possession, forcing a punt.

Faulkton Area followed it up with a punt of their own following a three-and-out, but the kick did pin Avon inside their own 10-yard line.

Two plays later for the Pirates, Meyer broke free for a 91-yard touchdown. With 2:16 to play in the half, and after the two-point try, Avon led in the contest 16-8.

The Trojans would follow up the Meyer touchdown with a big play of their own. Garrett Cramer broke free for a 73-yard touchdown run at the 1:01 mark. The two-point try was good, which tied the game up once again.

Cotton would intercept a Bierema pass on the final play of the half, but he was forced out of bounds as time expired.

Halftime: Faulkton Area 16 Avon 16

Faulkton Area got the ball to start the second half, but on a third and 10 on their opening possession, a Cotton pass deflected off the hands of Cramer and into the grip of Landon Mudder. Three plays later, Mudder took a carry into the end zone from 13-yards out. The two-point conversion gave the Pirates an early third quarter lead of 24-16.

The Trojans answered right back, however, when Cotton connected with Deiter on a screen pass that went 41-yards to the house. Avon would hold onto a 24-22 lead as the two-point attempt came up a yard shy.

Faulkton Area would get the ball back two plays later when Lincoln Dikoff forced a Meyer fumble. Gus Kopecky would come up with the ball in the pile for the Trojans. Despite the favorable field position, Faulkton Area was unable to capitalize as they turned it over on downs.

End of the 3rd Quarter: Avon 24 Faulkton Area 22

With 9:27 to play in the game, Bierema plunged forward for a 3-yard score. The Pirates also converted the two-point try, which was crucial, as it extended Avon’s lead to 10-points over Faulkton Area, a two-score game.

The Trojans weren’t done yet. Needing a big play, they got it. Cotton hit Cramer on a crucial fourth down for a 66-yard touchdown. After the successful two-point try, Avon’s lead shrunk to just two-points.

On Avon’s next possession, Faulkton Area came away with the turnover they needed. Cotton stripped the ball from Meyer that was recovered by Deiter, giving the ball back to the Trojans with just over four-minutes to play.

Faulkton Area would have one more opportunity. On a crucial fourth down, Cotton hit Cramer for a 22-yard touchdown, but an ineligible receiver downfield took the score away. Backed up another five-yards, Cotton took another shot at the end zone, but to no avail. From there, it was victory formation for the Pirates.

Final: Avon 32 Faulkton Area 30

Aziah Meyer finished with 177-yards of rushing and a touchdown on the ground for Avon. Paxton Bierema had two rushing touchdowns in the contest on 33-yards rushing, and Landon Mudder had a ground score as well with 66-yards of rushing.

Layne Cotton finished with 196-yards through the air and three passing touchdowns for Faulkton Area. Garrett Cramer added 85-yards of rushing with a touchdown too, and Charlie Deiter hauled in two touchdowns on 80-yards receiving.

Outstanding Lineman: Landon Thury
Outstanding Back: Aziah Meyer
Joe Robbie MVP: Aziah Meyer

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.