Owen Bright guessed correctly.
Center Grove’s sophomore linebacker, sensing Westfield quarterback Maximus Webster would throw over the middle in the waning stages of the Class 6A state championship game Saturday night, adjusted his body accordingly.
Bright’s interception at the 3 yard line with 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter sealed the Trojans’ thrilling 27-21 victory inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Perfection isn’t always pretty, but Center Grove notched its fourth state title under coach Eric Moore by doing what champions do – warding off the second-ranked and fiercely determined Shamrocks when it had to and completing a second consecutive 14-0 season.
Bright’s instincts proved the perfect microcosm.
“That’s the play you dream of, so, yeah … you don’t want to drop that ball,” said Bright, whose penchant for big plays includes interceptions for touchdowns against North Central and Lawrence Central in consecutive weeks during the regular season.
“The play before, (Westfield receiver) dropped the ball in the end zone. I figured they would come right back to the same route concept, so I scooted over a little bit inside. (Webster) got some pressure and threw it right to me.”
Senior all-everything defensive end Caden Curry, playing in his third straight 6A final, was among the Center Grove defenders attempting to collapse the pocket and apply a greater sense of urgency to what Webster was trying to do.
“I saw the pass going out of his fingers, and I knew that at one point, one of them had to go the wrong way,” said Curry, who’ll soon be ending months of speculation by announcing where he’ll play college football. “(Webster) had great drives and was playing pretty much perfect, I felt like.”
The Trojans as a whole were anything but much of the night.
Some very un-CG-like penalties and miscues handling the football hindered Moore’s squad, preventing the Trojans from creating their customary separation on the scoreboard.
Westfield held a 14-13 advantage late in the second quarter when Center Grove senior quarterback Tayven Jackson threw to receiver Harrison Stomps on the right side. The 6-foot-4 Stomps proceeded to utilize his long stride to motor 30 yards down the right sideline and what, ultimately, were the winning points.
Junior Micah Coyle’s five-yard touchdown run up the middle at 7:20 of the third finished off a 12-play, 80-yard drive that seemed to put the Trojans in control at 27-13.
However, a 1-yard TD by Westfield senior running back Micah Hauser at the 3:42 mark positioned the Shamrocks for a potential upset with one quarter still to play. Center Grove’s next two offensive series resulted in punts, giving Westfield the football at its own 23 with 6:30 on the clock.
Led by Webster’s pinpoint passing to glue-fingered senior wideouts Jackson Wasserstrom and Ian Bruch, Westfield marched all the way to the Center Grove 11.
It was here, on a third-and-10, Bright stepped up by stepping in.
Moore, who took over the Center Grove program in 1999 and on Saturday was part of his seventh state championship game with the Trojans, said his team didn’t take Westfield, a program they led 38-7 at halftime a year ago, lightly.
“No. Not at all. Westfield improved. They had a great game plan and they got really physical,” Moore said. “Sometimes we responded, sometimes we didn’t. We didn’t have a real clean game. We made some mistakes we normally don’t make, but at the end we make a great defensive play and win a state championship.
“We’re deserving of what we’ve got. You don’t win 28 (games) in a row luckily.”
Possibly lost in the fourth-quarter dramatics were Coyle and senior Daniel Weems rushing for 77 and 65 yards, respectively, and the 6-5, 255-pound Curry assisting as the primary ball carrier in short-yardage situations. Or that Jackson completed 12 of 14 pass attempts for 152 yards.
Senior defensive back Mitchell Evans led the Trojans in tackles with eight, one more than junior DB Jalen Thomeson.
Bright, credited with six tackles and forced a pair of fumbles, is a former running back who was moved to linebacker as a way to utilize his athleticism and fill a need on defense.
The transition allowed him to make the play of his life.
“Oh, you can’t describe it,” Bright said. “Everybody says it, but when you’re a kid and you grow up in this program, you come here and watch teams do this. To be out here, execute your job and win a game, it’s what you dream of.
“Winning a state championship is the best it gets.”