The Center Grove football program reached back into history in order to make history Friday night.
Beating perennial power Cathedral, 7-0 — a final score more reminiscent of an era of single-bar facemasks — ensured the No. 1 team in Class 6A a final regular-season record of 9-0 for the first time in 40 years.
Defenses dominated in this showdown against the 12-time state champion Irish, a program that coming in was ranked fourth in 6A and had been shut out only once in its previous 163 games.
Center Grove took the field averaging 33.2 points a game, yet managed an uncharacteristically low 214 yards of total offense; Cathedral with a 32.6-point average was limited to 249.
A total of 11 punts.
Old-school football at its finest.
“I definitely feel a little dizzy after this one because I really put it all out there in this game,” said hard-hitting Trojans cornerback Tyler Pence, who is part of a defense that’s allowed a total of 21 points in the last three games.
“It was a great game, though. I enjoyed every moment of it. It’s a great way to cap off a season with a win like this, a defensive shutout.”
Fittingly, Center Grove’s seniors did everything they could to make their final regular-season home game one they’ll never forget.
Jackson Hohlt provided the game’s lone TD — a 50-yard touchdown on a counter criss-cross run at 10:51 of the second quarter. The senior, who finished with 81 yards rushing on 11 carries, helped punctuate the outcome late by picking up five yards on a crucial third-and-four.
On defense, tackles Jovan Swann and Cameron Tidd wreaked their customary havoc on the Irish offense with help from Pence, fellow defensive back Connor Steeb, linebacker Jackson Sodrel, end Devon Wilson and a host of others.
Blanket coverage by the starting secondary also proved crucial as 6-foot-4 Cathedral quarterback Max Bortenschlager completed 13 of 23 pass attempts for only 50 yards.
“Vince Lombardi would have loved to have been here tonight. Cathedral did a great job playing defense tonight. I don’t think we’ve had anyone play us that physical,” said Center Grove coach Eric Moore after watching his team score its second shutout of the season.
“Both defenses were phenomenal. Our defense bent a little bit, but never broke at all, and I’m just so proud of our kids’ effort.”
Cathedral had an opportunity to open the game’s scoring, but senior Vincent Alerding’s 50-yard field goal try midway through the first quarter fell well short.
The Irish along with punting twice went into the locker room having watched drives stall at the Center Grove 33-, 25-, 23- and 36-yard lines.
Aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Cathedral defense, Center Grove looked as though it might add a second score late in the second period.
With first down from the Irish 22, Hohlt fumbled to give the visitors the football back with 33 seconds remaining in the second.
Cathedral sophomore Markese Stepp reeled off a 33-yard run along the right side to put the Irish offense back in business, but Bortenschlager’s Hail Mary effort into the end zone with time expiring was batted away by Pence.
Only Moore and Cathedral coach Rick Streiff know how much of their respective playbooks were on display Friday night.
With the Irish a 6A program due to the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s success rule, there is a chance these teams could square off again Nov. 13 at semistate.
The Trojans open sectional play Friday at Columbus North (6-3). The Bull Dogs enter the postseason riding a two-game losing streak. The Irish travel to Lawrence Central for a second time this season having scored a 32-14 victory there in Week 1.