Center Grove football obliterates North Central

Any debate about who has the best high school football team in Indiana was loudly silenced on Friday night.

Class 6A No. 1 Center Grove did to third-ranked North Central what it has done to everyone else, riding a dominating defensive effort and the power running of Carson Steele to a 47-0 blowout win.

The Panthers (4-1, 2-1 MIC) had beaten the Trojans in each of the last two seasons, but on this night they never stood a chance.

"Playing us is so different," Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. "It’s hard to compare — Carson Steele is a physical running back, and we’re not afraid to give it to him 15 straight times. And you don’t practice that — that’s hard. For a high school kid to come out, and it’s like tackling a bag of hatchets, you know?"

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Steele ran for 175 yards and three touchdowns, setting three school records in the process. He finished the night as the Trojans’ career leader in points (386), total touchdowns (64) and rushing yardage (4,848).

Setting those standards meant a lot to the senior after he missed most of last season due to injury.

"It’s definitely a great feeling," he said. "Especially with last year, the injury and stuff, just being able to come back and play the game that you love is awesome."

The record-setting night added a little spice to what was otherwise a one-sided affair from the very beginning.

Center Grove (5-0, 4-0) got the only points that mattered just 2:13 into the game, cashing in a quick five-play opening drive on a 22-yard run by Steele. After the first of North Central’s eight first-half punts, the Trojans again needed just five plays to hit paydirt on a Steele 9-yarder.

Connor Delp capped off a 13-play march with a 10-yard run to make it 21-0 with 8:58 left in the half, and after yet another Panther punt, Steele picked up his third TD of the night from a yard out. A blocked punt by Shane Bennett then set up a 36-yard field goal by Austin Watson.

North Central had a chance to get itself back in the game by forcing a pair of Trojan fumbles, but neither did much more than delay the inevitable. The first pinned the Panthers at their own 1, resulting in a safety when the punter stepped out of the end zone. The second merely set up another punt with about a minute left before halftime — just long enough to allow Tayven Jackson to hit a wide-open Delp for 55 yards and the running-clock touchdown.

Jackson completed nine passes for 135 yards and a score for the Trojans.

Freshman Owen Bright had the lone second-half score, punching it in on a 3-yard run with 3:56 left in the game.

Center Grove finished the night with a 483-26 advantage in total offense; the Panthers had minus-nine yards on the ground, never crossed midfield and didn’t pick up their lone first down until late in the third quarter.

That’s just how life has been for teams against the Trojans’ defense, which pitched its third shutout in the last four weeks. The starting unit has allowed just one score this fall.

"The defense reared back and played great," Moore said, "and I think we’re better up front than people maybe give us credit for. … They just did a great job."

"Lights-out defense," Steele added. "That wins games."

Just one of many strengths on a team that has yet to show any real sign of weakness.