As an estimated 8,000 Center Grove football fans reveled in the state championship just won, Trojans quarterback Joey Siderewicz offered a slightly different perspective.
Where there was adulation, he also felt a sense of relief.
“I think I’m just relieved right now to know that we won that game and how hard of a season we’ve had,” the senior said moments after the Trojans completed their undefeated season with Saturday night’s 28-16 victory against Penn in the Class 6A title game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I’m so happy for everyone on our team, our coaches and just everyone in the community who supported us all year. As a team we’re always focused on the game, but when we get a big play it’s nice to know we’ve got a big crowd behind us.”
Everything about Center Grove’s dream season embodied team — including the pressure-packed win responsible for sealing the program’s second state title.
Junior running back Titus McCoy rushed for a Class 6A state finals-record 193 yards and three touchdowns to lead Center Grove (14-0), which won the pregame coin toss, elected to receive, scored on the first offensive series and proved in control the rest of the way.
Even though Penn, a tradition-rich program making its 11th state championship game appearance, twice pulled close — 14-10 midway through the third quarter and 21-16 early in the fourth — Center Grove kept focused and responded on the ensuing series.
McCoy’s 1-yard TD plunge at 2:19 of the third capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive for a 21-10 advantage; his 1-yard surge into the end zone with 1:41 remaining in the fourth quarter ended the suspense.
“The game was sort of put in our lap to do what we do best. We didn’t have to score 40 points, we didn’t have to throw it around,” said 17th-year head coach Eric Moore, who since coming to Center Grove in 1999 has now won two state football championships and the 2011 boys state track and field title.
“I told the boys at halftime, ‘Guys, on June 1 if I told you we’re going to be 13-0 and at halftime we’ve got a lead, would you take it?’ Absolutely. Let’s have fun, and that’s what we did. We stayed focused and had fun. That’s the bottom line.”
What Center Grove accomplished Saturday continues a tremendous five-month athletic run for the school, which, since June, has won state titles in softball, boys soccer and football while also finishing runner-up in boys golf.
Also mixed in is Cameron Tidd’s winning the state discus competition last June. Tidd also played a major role in this championship as one of the Trojans’ starting defensive tackles.
One of his classmates, senior cornerback Tyler Pence, officially iced it with an interception at the Center Grove 37 with 52 seconds left in the fourth period. The Trojans’ leading tacklers were junior outside linebacker Bailey Bennett with nine and senior defensive back Blake Moran with eight.
Creating running lanes for McCoy and seniors Lee Clinker (61 yards) and Jackson Hohlt (45) was an offensive line anchored by senior right guard John Richardson.
The other starters up front are all underclassmen — juniors Clay Hadley and Nick Davis along the left side, junior center Bailey Smith, junior right tackle Ethan Hart and sophomore tight end Cory Heinrichs.
“The line prepared these last two weeks like they did all season, made the holes and I just did the running. They did awesome,” said McCoy, who finished the season with 28 rushing touchdowns.
“And these seniors on our team did a great job with leadership, and it meant the world just to send them out with a blue ring. They deserved it.”
Center Grove wasted little time establishing its dominance on its way to a 14-3 halftime lead.
The Trojans marched 80 yards in five plays on the game’s opening drive. The initial points came on McCoy’s 38-yard touchdown run through a massive hole along the right side at 9:51 of the first period.
The Center Grove defense proved stout at the outset, limiting the Kingsmen offense to a total of 23 yards on its first eight plays.
Center Grove upped the spread to 14-0 on the first play of the second period, Siderewicz rolling right to throw a 6-yard touchdown pass to an all-by-his-lonesome Triston Clark in the middle of the north end zone.
Penn finally mounted a drive on its third and final possession of the half, going from its 20 to deep inside Trojans’ territory.
However, the defense, led by senior linemen Jovan Swann, Tidd and Devon Wilson, kept the Kingsmen out of the end zone. Penn settled for a 21-yard field goal from senior Sam Scholtes to make for the score at halftime.
Penn pulled closer midway through the third quarter when quarterback Camden Bohn, a Harvard University signee and eventual Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award recipient, connected with junior James Iapalucci for a 15-yard scoring pass.
Center Grove responded to retake the momentum.
Gone were the heartaches of losing at semistate the past four postseasons, three of the losses being by a total of 13 points.
“This is huge because we’ve been stopped in the semistate in all of our years here,” said Siderewicz, who finished his final high school season completing 65 percent of his pass attempts (79 of 122) for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“It’s a great way to end it.”
IHSAA STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS
Lafayette Central Catholic 34, Linton-Stockton 7
Monrovia 33, Whiting 6
Chatard 31, West Lafayette 7
Fort Wayne Dwenger 27, East Central 3
Fort Wayne Snider 64, New Palestine 61
Center Grove 28, Penn 16