Fourth-ranked Center Grove entered play Friday night having outscored its last nine sectional opponents by an average of 33 points.
Against Franklin Central, the number experienced a significant dip, but the result was the same.
The visiting Trojans rallied to down the gutty Flashes, 14-10, qualifying for Friday’s Class 6A sectional final at Columbus North. The Bull Dogs did their part, hammering Jeffersonville 41-14 in the other semifinal game.
Senior Micah Coyle carried the ball 31 times for 151 yards and a touchdown as the Trojans improved to 8-2.
“We lost our premier athlete, Jalen Thomeson, during practice over the bye week,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “It’s just been tough. We’ve lost all these premier athletes this year, yet we’re still competing. Finding ways to win.
“Different kids came up big tonight, and same old, same old, Micah Coyle got real physical and ran the football. (Quarterback Tyler) Cherry made some beautiful throws, and (Noah) Coy’s catch was as good as I’ve seen.”
Bruising senior back Jeremiah Smith’s 3-yard blast up the middle with 10:19 remaining in the fourth quarter put Franklin Central ahead, 10-7.
The two-time defending state champion refused to flinch, covering 60 yards in six plays to retake the lead on Eli Hohlt’s 3-yard sprint around left end at the 8:06 mark. One play earlier, Coy, who was blanketed by FC defensive back Hudauri Hines, managed to come down with the ball for what amounted to a 28-yard gain.
Then, it was Center Grove’s defense taking center stage. On third and 9 from the Franklin Central 21 on the next series, Flashes sophomore quarterback Nevan Tutterow tried to pass deep over the middle, but it was intercepted by Trojan junior defensive back Michael Soderdahl.
Needing to churn out a long drive in order to burn clock, Moore’s squad did just that. After an apparent 68-yard touchdown run by Coyle was called back due to a holding penalty, Cherry connected with sophomore tight end TJ Williams for an 18-yard completion. On third and 13, he located Hohlt, who despite being interfered with came down with the ball at the Franklin Central 3.
Coyle ran the ball twice, and Cherry ran out the rest of the clock by taking a knee.
“There was a little worry, but we just had to pick it up and be more physical,” Center Grove senior guard Austin Wiese said. “I think we took them lightly a little bit, but we can’t take anybody lightly. We did learn a big lesson.”
Center Grove held a surprisingly slim 7-3 lead at halftime after squelching a golden opportunity late.
After moving from its own 40 to the Flashes’ 1, the Trojans were stonewalled by the Franklin Central defense on fourth and goal with 44.8 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The Trojans got on the board first with Coyle darting around left end for a 15-yard touchdown run at 2:10 of the opening period. Coyle’s run capped an eight-play, 68-yard drive in which he toted the pigskin four of the final five plays.
Franklin Central responded with a clock-consuming 19-play series that made it as far as the Trojans’ 9 before the Flashes settled for a 26-yard field goal from sophomore Zachary Naessens.
Seventy-nine of Coyle’s rushing yards came before halftime. His 16 carries made up most the offense, as the Trojans ran the ball 19 times and passed it six.