Center Grove football wins third straight state championship


Add another nail.

Immediately inside the entrance to Eric Moore’s football office at Center Grove hang the medals he’s earned as a state championship coach, be it on the gridiron or during track and field season.

The 61-year-old will soon look up from his desk and notice a sixth courtesy of Friday night’s convincing 35-9 conquest of previously undefeated Fort Wayne Carroll in the Class 6A title contest inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

With the Trojans’ offensive and defensive units continually one-upping one another, players were able to jubilantly raise a third consecutive championship trophy, joining the undefeated 2020 and 2021 squads.

Center Grove (12-2) rushed for 302 yards against the Chargers, the talents of senior backs Micah Coyle and Jalen Thomeson utilized to their fullest behind the blocks of left tackle Charlie Gardner, guard Austin Wiese, center Payton Hutchins, right guard John Lyon, tackle Luke McDaniel and tight end T.J. Williams.

“It’s all about the team. They’re linemen. They’re never going to get their name called, but they know we appreciate running the football and scoring,” said Moore, whose family of championship medals also includes 2008 and 2016 football supremacy and the 2011 boys track and field team winning state.

Asked if his line was the key to Friday’s win, Moore went one better: “They were the key to the whole year. Running the ball and protecting the defense until it grew up.”

“The whole year we’ve just been a run power team, and when people start to key on the run, we throw it over the top of their head,” said McDaniel, a senior. “We’re just ready for it, mentally, physically. We trust each other on the O-line.

“We have four seniors. Our chemistry is just unstoppable, really. We just kept getting better and kept getting better, and that’s the key to this program, keep getting better every week.”

Center Grove’s defense only allowed the Chargers to amass only 255 yards of total offense on the biggest of stages, the final 26 coming on a late touchdown reception by senior Camden Herschberger with 3:02 remaining.

Center Grove surrendered a field goal early, but countered with three consecutive touchdowns to take a commanding 21-3 lead at the half.

Thomeson, Coyle and junior linebacker Owen Bright, the latter part of CG’s jumbo package in goal-line situations, all reached the end zone. The margin might have been wider, but one of senior Nolan Foley’s two field goal attempts sailed left and the other was blocked.

After the Chargers went up, 3-0, on a 30-yard field goal from Sebastian Lopez at 7:20 of the first quarter, the remainder of the half belonged to the Trojans, both offensively and defensively.

Center Grove faced a third-and-four from its own 36 on its first possession when junior quarterback Tyler Cherry completed a pass to Thomeson on the right side.

As the senior motored upfield, more and more daylight became evident as he took it all the way to the end zone for a 7-3 lead at 5:37 of the opening quarter.

Tackles for loss on the ensuing series by Trojans junior tackle Nate Johnson and senior end Ryne Roehling set Center Grove up with great field position. However, Foley’s 37-yard field goal attempt from the right hash mark was off the mark.

A spectacular 35-yard reception by junior Noah Coy, despite the Chargers’ attempt to double-cover him along the sideline, was the huge play in his team’s next scoring drive, one capped by Coyle crashing in from the 1 at 9:22 of the second stanza.

Bright later made it in from the 1, finishing a series that covered 54 yards and was aided greatly by a Chargers personal foul on a late hit on Coyle following a 7-yard run.

Center Grove received the second-half kickoff and marched 60 yards for another score, this one a 1-yard sneak by Cherry at the 8:15 mark of the third quarter to make it a 28-3 score. Senior Eli Hohlt skirted the left end for a 6-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left in the quarter as the Trojans were in cruise control mode, ahead 35-3.

“I just think all year we’ve prepared well for it. We had a good work ethic all year. Really, it’s just a brotherhood,” Hutchins said of the Center Grove offensive front. “Coach Moore always said our opponent has no face.

“That everybody we face is the same person, and we’ve just got to give it our all and do what we do.”