Struggling to impose its will offensively for most of Friday night’s game, the Center Grove football team leaned heavily on its defense — and that unit delivered.
The Trojans’ offense then managed to assert itself when it mattered most, using an 80-yard scoring drive to break a late tie en route to a 19-6 victory against Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rival Carmel.
With the win, Center Grove (2-1) retains possession of the Copper Kettle for another year.
“I can’t say enough about our defense tonight,” Trojans head coach Eric Moore said.
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“We were all on the same page,” senior linebacker Bailey Bennett added. “Great, great coaching by (assistant coach Chad) Daniels — he was the main reason for what we did tonight, I have to say.”
The Trojans’ decisive scoring drive was set up by Dan Root’s backfield tackle of Carmel’s Jerome Halsell on third-and-1 — one of several pivotal short-yardage plays by the Center Grove defense.
Taking over with 6:41 on the clock, the Trojans kept the ball on the ground for 10 consecutive plays. Triston Clark opened the march with a 9-yard run, and Trevor Hohlt and Russ Yeast followed with carries for 13 and 20 yards, respectively, to put the ball at the Carmel 38.
Yeast added runs of 11, 10 and 8 yards to set up first and goal at the 2, and Kellams dove in for the go-ahead score two plays later.
“Things pretty much just opened up more,” Clark said. “We sat down with each other and just said, ‘Hey, we need to do what we need to do,’ and we got it done.”
Senior offensive lineman Nick Davis, one of several Trojans who hadn’t played since being injured in the season opener at Warren Central, entered the game during the fourth quarter and helped clear the path for the Center Grove backfield.
“We’re like, ‘Man, Nick, if you can go, we really need you,'” Moore recalled. “And he said, ‘I’ve got nine minutes.’ We rode his back.”
Down 12-6, the Greyhounds (1-2) had an opportunity to respond, but four straight incomplete passes, followed by a 3-yard TD run by Bennett in the closing seconds, sealed the outcome.
Despite an interception in Carmel territory by Corbin Laque and the surprise return of injured running back Titus McCoy, the Trojans came out of the first quarter still locked in a 0-0 stalemate.
That changed after Center Grove’s defense made a fourth-down stop to get the ball back at Carmel’s 39-yard line early in the second quarter, setting up a 46-yard field goal by sophomore Luke Eckert with 5:48 to go in the half.
Following another quick stop by the Trojans, Hohlt — also returning to the lineup after missing last week’s game at Whiteland — hauled in a 49-yard pass from Kellams at the Carmel 10. That set up another Eckert field goal, this one from 29 yards out, with just 5.8 seconds remaining before intermission.
Carmel got on the board with Ross Abdellah’s 22-yard field goal on its opening drive of the third quarter, then tied it on a 39-yarder by Abdellah with 10:55 left in regulation.
The Greyhounds just couldn’t find their way into the end zone against the Trojans.
“We just played by play, down by down,” Bennett said. “We just played amazing. I’m so proud of our defense and just so happy with what the future holds for us.”