In the case of the Center Grove defense, the numbers don’t lie.
In their past five games, the Trojans have allowed opponents an average of 6.6 points a game. Furthermore, eight of their 11 opponents (they played Warren Central twice) produced their lowest point total of the season against the Center Grove “D.”
Equally stingy against the pass (117 yards per game) and run (120), defensive coordinator Chad Daniels’ collection of ball-hawking players is saving its best for when the games count most.
“We’ve got guys who are consistent, who buy into the system and are trying to get better every practice and every week. We want to be the best defense in the state and the best tackling defense in the state,” Daniels said.
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Lofty aspirations, but ones Center Grove to date has so far lived up to.
The D’s biggest challenge comes in tonight’s Class 6A semistate against No. 6 Avon (10-2), which features senior quarterback Brandon Peters and a group of talented receivers led by 6-foot, 195-pound senior Andrew Griffin.
A victory places the Trojans inside Lucas Oil Stadium the evening of Nov. 28 for the Class 6A state championship game.
It’s up to seniors such as defensive end Devon Wilson, tackles Jovan Swann and Cameron Tidd and defensive backs Blake Moran, Connor Steeb and Tyler Pence to help make sure the dream becomes reality.
Vanderbilt University signee Tidd and Swann, who has netted approximately 20 NCAA Division I scholarship offers, remain the backbone of the Trojans’ defense. Swann 55 tackles, including 15.5 for loss, and 6.5 sacks. Tidd has 54 tackles, including 13.5 for loss, and five sacks.
“The practice structure we have allows us to execute come game time week in and week out,” Swann said. “We’ll always give our best effort no matter the opponent.
“There is no letting your foot off the gas at this point.”
The backfield disruption created by these two along with the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Wilson (15 tackles, four for loss) often provides opportunities for the Trojans’ linebackers and secondary.
In all, eight players have 30 or more tackles, the others being Pence (54), injured senior linebacker Jackson Sodrel (47), junior linebackers Bailey Bennett (53) and Nick Arbuckle (36), junior end Dan Root (30), Steeb (46) and junior defensive back Logan Bontrager (35).
“(Daniels) from Day 1 said we want to be the best defense in the state. We’ve got a good defensive line, of course, and that makes the opponents throw it quicker,” Steeb said. “All of our different positions really complement the other positions.”
Other defensive statistics worth note are Center Grove’s limiting opponents to success on third down only 35 pecent of the time, a 3.4-yard average against the run, 19 quarterback sacks and eight interceptions.
The Trojans also have two shutouts this season — a feat duplicated four other times (2001, 2003, 2008, 2013) in coach Eric Moore’s 17 seasons; and in six games, they limited the other team to seven or fewer points.
Needless to say, the coaching staff has kept plenty busy distributing red skull-and-crossbones stickers awarded to defensive players over the past three months.
“Everyone knows what to do on every play,” said senior Will Smithey, a backup to cornerbacks Pence and Moran who, according to Moore, produces a first-team brand of play despite being a second-teamer.
“As long as everyone does his job we make the tackles. Toward the end of this season everything has been clicking.”
Tackles — Jovan Swann, 55, and Cameron Tidd, 55; Tyler Pence, 54; Bailey Bennett, 53
Sacks — Swann, 5.5, and Tidd, 5.5; Sam Bolin, 2; Devon Wilson, 1.5
Interceptions — Bennett, 2, and Pence, 2.
Pass deflections — Pence, 22; Blake Moran, 5; Connor Steeb, 4, and Jackson Sodrel, 4.
Tackles for loss — Swann, 14.5; Tidd, 13.5; Dan Root, 7; Bennett, 6.5.