Center Grove football loses semistate thriller in overtime


The westside of Indianapolis has absorbed its share of bruises in Eric Moore’s 25 seasons as Center Grove’s coach.

On Friday, payback was in the air.

The word “classic” gets thrown around a lot in athletics, but Ben Davis’ pulsating 37-34 victory in overtime to settle a Class 6A semistate is going to be spoken of with great reverence for years to come.

Giants quarterback Thomas Gotkowski’s 10-yard slant pass to Nate Williams proved to be the difference after the Trojans had gone ahead, 34-31, on Patrick Smith’s 32-yard field goal to start OT.

The loss marked the end of the Trojans’ 11-2 season and their string of three consecutive 6A state titles.

“It doesn’t even feel real right now,” Center Grove senior linebacker Owen Bright said. “I’ve been in some close games, and it sucks to be on the on the short end of the stick this time.

“We might not have the best athletes. We might not be the biggest team. But we’re fighters, and that’s who we are as human beings. We’ve got heart, and I know every single player on this team is going to go out in this world, and they’re going to be a fighter.”

And fight is exactly what the Trojans did.

Leading 10-7 at halftime, Center Grove experienced a disastrous third quarter in which Ben Davis strung together 21 consecutive points to go ahead 28-10 at 2:44 of the period.

Most teams would’ve visualized putting away its helmets and shoulder pads. The Trojans were just warming up.

Center Grove quickly responded, pulling closer on quarterback Tyler Cherry’s 69-yard strike to a wide-open Brevin Holubar, the junior getting behind the last line of Ben Davis defense and taking it to the end zone.

A Cherry-to-Noah Coy touchdown pass with 5:57 remaining in the fourth cut it to 28-23, providing Center Grove even more momentum with plenty of time left. Then, with 2:58 showing, a 30-yard scoring pass from Cherry to Coy — plus Cherry’s two-point pass to freshman Drake McClurg — put the Trojans back on top, 31-28.

Ben Davis kicker Ben Rudolph converted a 20-yard field goal after a high snap from center with seven seconds left in regulation to guarantee overtime.

Going into Friday’s game, Trojan teams had posted an 18-6 record in games played at Ben Davis and Pike since Moore took over the program prior to the start of the 1999 season.

Center Grove held a 10-7 halftime lead, its points coming on Smith’s 37-yard field goal and a Matthew Yoder touchdown run of 11 yards.

The Trojans’ D forced Ben Davis to punt on the game’s opening offensive series, which resulted in a somewhat uncommon drive by Center Grove that included two fourth-down conversions and Cherry throwing an interception that was ultimately fumbled back to the Trojans.

Smith split the uprights from the left hash mark with 1:48 left in the opening stanza for a 3-0 lead.

Ben Davis got on the board with 6:22 remaining in the second when Gotkowski found senior receiver Zane Skibinski on a slant pattern over the middle on second and 9.

Skibinski took it the distance for a 60-yard touchdown, but the Trojans immediately responded with an 80-yard drive in only five plays, the big play being Cherry’s 52-yard pass to Coy after the Giants chose to defend Coy with one player.

Center Grove amassed 186 yards of total offense prior to intermission compared to Ben Davis’ 114.

The Trojans started the second half in nightmarish fashion, as a Cherry pass went through the hands of Coy and into the hands of linebacker Andrew Evans.

The senior took it from the Center Grove 39 to the 11. On the Giants’ next play, junior running back Alijah Price threw to a wide-open Skibinski in the back right corner of the end zone for a 14-10 lead.

Ben Davis padded its advantage to 21-10 at 5:52 mark as Gutkowski called his own number on third and four, found a crease along the right side and went 58 yards to paydirt to make it a seemingly comfortable 28-10.

Cherry finished 21 of 34 through the air for a total of 348 yards passing.

“We got ourselves in a position to get ahead, and even got a two-point conversion,” Moore said. “And then it just got away from us. Their kids made big plays, and congratulations to them.”