If final scores are what verifies a football program’s evolvement, Whiteland made considerable strides last season.
Disheartening as it may have been, losing to Center Grove by a single point gave Warriors players a feeling of belonging, considering the Trojans won the three previous meetings by a combined score of 158-13.
The fifth installment of this county rivalry put back together in 2011 is Friday night at Center Grove.
The home team takes the field ranked third in Class 6A; Whiteland sits at No. 6 in 5A.
Let the fun begin.
This time around the Warriors will have their opponent’s undivided attention long before the 7 o’clock kickoff.
A year ago it took a touchdown run by the Trojans with 8:48 remaining in the fourth quarter to pull ahead for good, 14-13. Center Grove survived despite being penalized 11 times for 105 yards.
“Last year they really came out and punched us in the face. They got our respect real quick,” said Center Grove coach Eric Moore, whose squad rallied last week for a 42-38 victory at Warren Central.
“With this game being between our games against Warren Central and (Week 3 opponent) Carmel, Whiteland could be overlooked. But they shouldn’t. It’s a team that could contend for a state championship in Class 5A.”
This is certainly the hope of the Warriors, who in October must compete in perhaps the state’s most challenging sectional in any of the six classes.
The five-team Sectional 14 also features the past two Class 4A state champions — Columbus East (2013) and New Palestine (2014). These programs are currently ranked Nos. 4 and 1, respectively, in the latest Class 5A poll.
Playing two highly ranked Class 6A opponents during the regular season on the road — the Warriors are at sixth-ranked Avon on Sept. 18 — can only benefit Whiteland, which routed outmanned 4A program South Dearborn, 66-0, in last week’s opener.
Despite not having defeated Center Grove in football since 1979, the Warriors maintain a slim 10-9 advantage in the overall series.
For the Trojans to pull even they’ll have to play the brand of defense exhibited in the second half of last week’s game as opposed to the opening two quarters.
Whiteland seniors Shaw Cloud and Brandon Patterson are established ball carriers with perimeter speed galore; complementing this duo is senior back Chris Richardson, junior back Anthony Schantz and junior quarterback Jace Carpenter.
“Whiteland’s defensive line and linebackers last year were awesome. This year people believe their offense is even better than it was last season,” Moore said.
Leading Center Grove’s wing-T offense is signal-caller Joey Siderewicz, who proved to be at his efficient best against Warren Central. The senior completed all eight pass attempts for 150 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Meanwhile, fullback Titus McCoy is coming off an impressive performance where he pounded out 130 yards rushing — nearly all of it in the second half. Expect the brother tandem of Jackson and Trevor Hohlt to also play a major role in Center Grove’s offensive plans.
Being in different classes and conferences, Center Grove-Whiteland isn’t as heated a rivalry as it could be in, say, 10 years from now should the latter’s enrollment figures continue to rise.
However, for high schools eight miles apart, geography makes it a rivalry.
“I love Whiteland’s coaching staff. Every week that’s the first team I look to see if they won,” Moore said.