Two-time state champion Center Grove is the undisputed benchmark when it comes to high school football in Johnson County.
Recent games in the program’s rivalry against Whiteland resulted in one nail-biter and four blowouts in which the Trojans outscored the Warriors by a combined 195-13.
Regardless of the history, the sixth installment playing out tonight at Whiteland promises to be a nice early-season gauge for both squads.
“This is a tough game for us because it’s their Super Bowl,” said Center Grove coach Eric Moore, whose defending Class 6A titlists opened the season with a 21-16 loss to Warren Central last Friday night.
“On film, Whiteland is a very aggressive team with good speed. They’re very well-coached and are a lot like us. They do what they do, and they do it well. I thought they showed a lot of heart coming back in their game against New Palestine.”
The Warriors lost a 38-26 decision to the defending 5A runner-up Dragons last Friday night in the second game of a doubleheader at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Tonight marks the first time since the rivalry was renewed that both teams take the field with 0-1 records.
Center Grove dropped from first to sixth in the Class 6A poll. The Trojans could be without as many as four starters on offense and one defensively due to injuries sustained against Warren Central.
Whiteland sits at No. 10 in the latest 5A poll.
It’s possible the Warriors have everything to gain and the Trojans everything to lose when it comes to the series.
If Center Grove wins, well, it was supposed to. Should Whiteland be victorious — as it darned near was two years ago in a 14-13 loss — it automatically vaults to near the top of the program’s all-time greatest achievements.
At least that’s the view from outside the program. Darrin Fisher, now in his 12th year as Whiteland’s head coach, doesn’t agree with it.
“No. No, I don’t,” Fisher said. “We’re at a point right now where we expect to win every time we’re on the football field, and this game is no exception. But we have to start better and finish plays better.
“We need to get better. Every team is different, but our starting slow is something this team does on a daily basis. We have to work on starting fast.”
The Center Grove-Whiteland football series is scheduled to feature no less than four more games. Late last fall, the schools signed a deal taking the rivalry through the 2019 season.
What happens beyond that remains to be seen.
There are aspects of the series both coaches find attractive. And yet there are times both Moore and Fisher believe a Week 2 change five or 10 years from now might be beneficial for both programs.
For Center Grove, game-planning to play the Warriors is sandwiched between respective Week 1 and 3 matchups against Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference heavyweights Warren Central and Carmel.
Fisher hopes Moore and his staff feel the same way about Whiteland as he did during the seasons his Whiteland teams squared off against a smaller county program in Indian Creek (2005-07).
The Warriors won all three games. Knowing how well-coached the Braves would be, Fisher was never once comfortable in the days leading up to the games.
“I hope Eric gives us that respect because I sure had that for (Indian Creek coach) Mike (Gillin) and his teams,” Fisher said. “I do know this. Playing a game that stretches you makes you better. And for us, Center Grove truly is a stretch game.”
Whiteland has been difficult to beat on its own field since Darrin Fisher took over as head coach in 2005. Here is a year-by-year look at how the Warriors have fared: