Change was in the air Friday night at Center Grove — but not all of it was good.
A massive crowd turned out to christen a newly renovated Ray Skillman Stadium and watch a highly anticipated matchup between the Class 6A No. 1 Trojans and fifth-ranked Warren Central.
While just about everything went according to plan off the field, the on-field result was not what the home fans had in mind. The Warriors held off a last-ditch comeback bid to hand the Trojans a 21-16 defeat, Center Grove’s first loss since the end of the 2014 season.
The decisive score came on the opening play of the fourth quarter when Michael Tutsie stepped in front of a Jack Kellams pass and took it 62 yards the other way, making it a 21-14 game.
Center Grove made a push in the closing minutes, getting within five on a safety and moving into Warren Central territory with a chance to win, but Jack Kellams’ final two passes of the night fell incomplete, and Tutsie’s pick-six wound up holding up.
“That kid made a great play,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said of the last Warren Central touchdown. “A defensive lineman grabs the ball and runs down the sideline? Holy cow. But that’s how you win.”
Center Grove drew first blood, cashing in shortly after Bailey Bennett recovered a fumble at the Warren Central 26. Jack Kellams rolled out and found an open Trevor Hohlt in the end zone for a 15-yard scoring pass with 6:34 to go in the opening quarter.
That score didn’t come without a cost, however. On the play before the touchdown, however, Titus McCoy went down with an apparent ankle injury and had to be helped off the field. The senior running back did not return to action, and Hohlt also exited later with a dislocated knee, leaving the Trojans’ backfield depleted.
The Warriors tied the game on the ensuing drive and had a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter, but the Center Grove defense stuffed Warren Central quarterback Zach Summeier inside the 1 on fourth and goal to keep the game tied.
It didn’t stay that way for long. Four plays later, senior Russ Yeast — making his Trojan football debut after transferring in last spring from Ohio — got around the left corner and broke free for an 84-yard touchdown run, putting Center Grove up with 8:56 left on the first-half clock.
“At that time, we had all the momentum,” said Yeast, who rushed for 128 yards on 15 carries. “We should have used that momentum to carry it out through the second half, and we didn’t.”
Warren Central evened the score on a 3-yard pass from Summeier to David Bell with 5:53 left in the third quarter, then took the only lead it would need moments later.
The Trojans had a chance to tie the game in the fourth period, but Warren Central came up with its own goal-line stand at the 3:18 mark. Victory seemed all but assured for the visitors, but the door opened a bit when Summeier — who was 26 of 36 passing for 258 yards — lost control of the ball in the end zone. A squib on the ensuing free kick put Center Grove near midfield with one final chance to steal a win, but it was not to be.
“I think we had every opportunity to win the game,” Yeast said, “and down the stretch, we just didn’t execute. And that’s why we lost.”
“We did some really good things, and we did some really bad things,” Moore added. That’s high school football.
“You don’t win them all every year, and you learn. Now we’re going to have to learn.”