Center Grove football looks to complete historic two-year run

Sometimes, it’s hard to realize that something rare or significant is happening when you’re in the moment.

Other times, you just know right away.

It’s been pretty obvious for these past two football seasons that what we’ve been witnessing from the Center Grove football team is special.

The Trojans take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight for the Class 6A state championship game against Westfield, looking to put the finishing touches on a two-year run that might be the greatest that Indiana high school football has ever seen.

“I told the kids that if they finish this out, they’re probably going to be talked about for the next 20-25 years,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said.

If not longer.

Center Grove has won 27 games in a row since the sophomore-laden 2019 squad came up short in the title game against Carmel. The team is currently ranked seventh nationally by USA Today and has been in the top 10 for most of the last two years. Only once during this stretch (last season’s 17-13 nail-biter against 5A state champion Cathedral) have the Trojans failed to win by double digits, and 23 of their 27 wins have been by 20 points or more.

“I remember talking about, ‘Man, that’s 15 in a row,’” Moore said, thinking back to this year’s season-opening win at Warren Central. “That’s huge — but can we win next week? Then 20 in a row. Then 25 was big, because then they start getting harder. And 27 is huge. It’s huge to have 27 straight wins. I never thought that, ever in my life at this school, we could win 27 straight; it’s 6A. Nor did anybody else.”

Indeed, putting together a run like this against the best large-school teams the state has to offer isn’t easy; even just winning championships is a chore, much less doing so without a loss along the way.

Class 6A has only been in existence since 2013, and parity has reigned — at least among the state’s four football megapowers. Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove and Warren Central each own two of the eight 6A championships, and no one has won two in a row. The Trojans are trying to become the first to go back to back.

The Warriors are the last team to repeat in the state’s largest class; they won four consecutive titles in Class 5A from 2003 to 2006. Only the fourth of those teams finished unbeaten, however. Since the IHSAA began contesting a football state tournament in 1973, only two teams have ever run the table in consecutive years: Carmel, which won 27 in a row while claiming 3A championships in 1980 and 1981; and Warren Central, which had back-to-back 14-o seasons while winning the 4A title in 1984 and the inaugural 5A crown in 1985.

The Greyhounds’ margin of victory during their two-year run was 847-126 (plus-721); the 1984-85 Warriors outscored their foes by a 1,073 to 234 spread (+839).

Not only has Center Grove won by more — a combined 1,133 to 240 (+893) — but they’ve done so with a running clock in place during the second half of the majority of their games.

“It’s apples and oranges,” Moore said. “I know Jeff George. I know the ‘84-85 (Warren) team was awesome. I don’t know how good their defense was; I don’t know that stat. I don’t know how good the defense on the Carmel ‘81 team was. But I know that if there’s a better defense than (ours) last year and this year, the combined years, I’ve got to see it. I’ve got to figure out how that would be, because I’ve seen their scores, and they weren’t like our scores.”

Center Grove’s defense has been breathtakingly dominant, yielding just 8.89 points per game since the 2020 opener — and roughly half of those points have come in garbage time, with opposing starters putting up window-dressing points against the Trojan reserves.

“It’s just that hard work we had over the summers,” senior defensive end Caden Curry said. “We definitely just outworked everybody.”

The offense, led by Tennessee-bound quarterback Tayven Jackson and a stable of talented skill players and linemen, is averaging a shade under 42 points during the current win streak.

All against the highest level of competition the state can muster, while burdened with the pressure and expectations that come with being touted as a once-in-a-lifetime juggernaut. What Moore’s club has been doing is essentially unprecedented — and it’s something that the players themselves won’t really be able to process until it’s all behind them.

“It’s just so much to take in,” senior defensive end James Schott said. “Especially this Saturday — I won’t be able to take it all in in that one day. It’ll definitely draw on for a couple of weeks after.”

“It doesn’t feel as big as everyone thinks it is,” Jackson added. “I know in a couple of years I’ll look back and be like, ‘Dang, we really did that.’ But honestly, it just feels like we’re winning games, and it feels like we’re supposed to win these games, and we deserve to win these games because we’ve worked really hard as a team and as a program.

“It’s not really mind-blowing, but I bet it will be in the future.”

For the rest of us, it’s pretty mind-blowing already.