Center Grove football defeats Harvest Prep

Center Grove had to work overtime to beat one Ohio visitor last week. Friday night’s contest against another was a bit less labor intensive.

The Class 6A No. 2 Trojans shook off an early challenge from an undermanned Harvest Prep squad, getting some separation in the middle periods and finishing off a 36-18 victory in what was the last of five straight games against out-of-state opponents.

The visiting Warriors (3-1) — with an Indian Creek-like high school enrollment of just over 650 students and only 37 players listed on the roster — got out to a promising enough start, snuffing out the Trojans’ opening possession with a fourth-down stop and getting to the Center Grove 9-yard line with a big gain on their first play from scrimmage.

Center Grove, though, responded with a fourth-down stop of its own and followed that up with a 95-yard scoring drive. Tyler Cherry and favorite target Noah Coy did most of the heavy lifting, connecting five times for 70 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown strike that put the home team on top at the 5:51 mark of the first quarter.

A Nate Johnson quarterback sack forced Harvest Prep to punt on its next possession, and it looked as if the Trojans (4-1) were building some momentum — but the Warriors forced a fumble and recovered at the Center Grove 19. Four plays later, Lenny Wicks scored on a 2-yard run to get the visitors on the board. The two-point pass failed, leaving the Trojans in front by a point, 7-6, with 11.5 seconds left in the period.

Early in the second quarter, though, Center Grove got the big momentum-changing play it sought when Lincoln Bright batted a Warrior pass up into the air and it was gobbled up inside the Harvest Prep 10 by Johnson, who bulled forward to the 3-yard line. That set up a 3-yard TD run by Rylan Cook, and Cherry followed with a two-point pass to T.J. Williams to make it 15-6 with 8:11 remaining in the half.

Another Trojan interception, this one by Luke Barrett, set the Trojans up with a short field at the Harvest Prep 40, but the visitors forced a turnover on downs for the second time. Just like the first time, though, the Center Grove defense responded in kind and got the ball back four plays later. The Trojans cashed in with 30.6 seconds to go before the intermission, with Cook scoring from 2 yards out for a 22-6 advantage.

Harvest Prep crossed midfield to start the third quarter before throwing its third interception of the night, this one pulled down by Brody Boswell. The Trojans then put together a seven-play, 74-yard touchdown march, with a 30-yard catch and run to Noah Coy the lone pass. Matthew Yoder punched it in from the 5, making it 29-6 with 4:38 left in the third.

The Warriors answered with a 76-yard drive, capped by a 20-yard touchdown throw from Dezmond Porter to Chris Brown on fourth and 10 early in the fourth quarter. They then forced a Trojan punt and had a chance to make it a one-score game, but Center Grove’s defense held and the offense put the game away with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Cherry to Coy that stretched the margin to 24 with 5:49 remaining.

The score tightened a bit at the end when Harvest Prep tacked on a window-dressing TD throw against Center Grove’s second-string defense with 2.5 seconds on the clock.

Next week, the Trojans will travel to Lawrence Central for their first contest against another Indiana high school this season.