Center Grove football rolls into 6A state title game

For the past couple of years, Center Grove’s matchups with Ben Davis have generally followed a familiar pattern — close for a half before the Trojans pull away over the final 24 minutes.

Friday night’s Class 6A semistate game stayed true to recent form.

An overwhelming third-quarter blitz keyed by big plays on defense and special teams quickly drained the suspense from what had been a tight battle for two quarters, and Center Grove secured a third consecutive semistate crown with a 45-6 triumph.

“In the second half, we made some coaching adjustments, and we’re able to do that because our defense plays so well and is so consistent,” Trojans coach Eric Moore said. “The defense in the first half did a great job of bending a little bit but not breaking. In the second half they took over, and we tilted the field and made some big plays.”

The defending state champion Trojans, now 13-0 and winners of 27 games in a row, will try to become the first repeat 6A champ in state history when they face No. 2 Westfield in next Saturday evening’s title game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Center Grove routed the Shamrocks in last season’s final, 38-14.

Up 10-6 at the midway point, the Trojans opened the third quarter with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 44-yard quarterback keeper by Tayven Jackson. That run started a snowball roll that gathered speed and force quickly, smothering the Giants (7-6).

On Ben Davis’ first possession of the second half, Center Grove forced a punt that wound up getting blocked by James Schott and rolling out of bounds at the Giants’ 17-yard line. Daniel Weems took a handoff on the next play and went untouched up the middle for a score at the 5:39 mark.

The avalanche continued on the very next play from scrimmage, as Jackson Griffin stepped in front of a J’uan Swanson pass and picked it off, trotting into the end zone to stretch the lead to 31-6.

Ben Davis slowed the onslaught with a long drive that advanced as far as the Trojans’ 8-yard line, but the visitors came up empty and Center Grove put the game away with a 92-yard march in the other direction. Micah Coyle capped it off, getting his second touchdown run from 9 yards out with 9:15 to go in the contest. Weems, who gained 97 of his game-high 113 yards rushing in the second half, iced it with a 39-yard TD rush as the running clock ticked down under four minutes.

The Trojans finished the night with a 286-32 advantage on the ground, outrushing the Giants 219 to minus-4 after halftime. Jackson, who came into the game with just 80 yards on the ground season, totaled 104 on Friday.

“We put in a run play for me, finally,” Jackson said with a smile. “They put it in, so I ran it.”

Center Grove was slow to get going offensively, but its defense and special teams kept the team afloat early.

The Giants’ opening possession lasted just three plays and 21 seconds before Swanson’s deep pass up the middle was intercepted by Parker Doyle. The Trojans then forced a turnover on downs on the next Ben Davis drive, but they were unable to convert either of those two opportunities into points.

They had no trouble cashing in on the third one, which came when Jalen Thomeson crashed the backfield to block a punt and set the Center Grove offense up at the Giants’ 17. Four plays later, Coyle swept around the left side, lowered his shoulder and ran through a Ben Davis defender at the goal line with 3.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Undeterred, the visitors answered back with an eight-play, 65-yard scoring march. Swanson completed six of seven passes, converting a fourth and 10 to Brady Simmons and then going over the top two plays later to an open Donell Mason for a 26-yard touchdown. Ben Davis went for two but couldn’t convert.

Center Grove moved right back into scoring position on a 45-yard pass from Jackson to Brandon Wheat and a fourth-down run by Daniel Weems that set up a first down at the Giants’ 16. A botched snap derailed the drive somewhat, but the Trojans were still able to salvage a 29-yard Nolan Foley field goal to make it a 10-6 game with 4:06 to go before halftime.

Ben Davis had a good chance to take the lead before the intermission but couldn’t capitalize. The Giants converted a pair of fourth downs, including one on a pass interference call, to advance to the Center Grove 5, but their field goal attempt in the closing seconds was pulled wide to the left.

The Giants totaled 219 passing yards on the night but couldn’t find the end zone more than once.

Having booked another trip downtown, the Trojans are now focused on finishing a dominating two-year run with another championship.

“No one’s ever done this before,” Jackson said, “so that’s the motivation.”