Chances were good Center Grove’s air of invincibility at the Mt. Vernon (Fortville) boys soccer regional was going to end at some point.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, it occurred Saturday night.
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A header from senior midfielder Noah Nash at 17:49 of the second half off a Lal Piang corner kick lifted Perry Meridian to a 1-0 triumph in the championship match.
Nash’s goal assured Perry Meridian (11-3-1) the program’s second regional crown. Coach Adam Spieth’s unranked squad faces fourth-ranked North Central on Saturday at a yet-to-be-determined semistate site (Evansville Harrison or Jeffersonville).
Center Grove, the defending Class 2A state champion, finishes its season with a record of 12-4-3.
“I would just say we didn’t play very well the whole night. There’s about a 10- to 15-minute span in the second half where we started to calm down,” Trojans coach Jameson McLaughlin said. “I think we just played nervous for some reason, especially in the first 20 to 25 minutes.
“(Perry Meridian’s) quickness is tough to deal with. We’re not a quick team. We’re a big, physical team. And we didn’t execute some things we talked about. We talked about going out wide, and when we would go out wide we had a lot of success.
“Unfortunately, they tried to come down the middle too much, and it ended up costing us.”
It marks the first time since 2010 the Trojans won’t be playing in a semistate. Center Grove had captured five consecutive Mt. Vernon regionals, outscoring its 11 opponents prior to Saturday night by a total of 47-4.
“First of all, credit to Center Grove. They had a great season. As the defending state champs the pressure was on them,” Spieth said. “They’re still a good team that lost a lot of seniors.
“We knew they were going to be a very good team, so we just had to have extremely high pressure. They’re a lot bigger. We have a lot of Burmese kids who are kind of small.”
Center Grove opened its regular season at home with a 0-0 tie against the Falcons, but that match took place Aug. 18.
Still, Perry Meridian’s players were familiar with the Trojans, which removed any potential intimidation factor.
Saturday night’s frenzied final few minutes included a potential game-tying kick by Trojans senior midfielder Connor Campbell
It sailed a few feet right of the goal.
McLaughlin entered this season with only one returning starter (Campbell) after graduating 13 seniors who accounted for 70 of the 82 goals produced during the program’s magical 2015 campaign.
He now finds himself saying goodbye to eight more seniors, including the nucleus of Campbell, forward Jared Wilkerson and defenders Gus Caito and Griffin Smith.
“They’ve handled this season phenomenally,” McLaughlin said. “Eight seniors who are good soccer players, but better people. It’s tough to come back as the state champ, especially when 70 percent of them weren’t on that team and don’t understand the intensity that’s going to come.
“Every game we get everybody’s best game. But we’re used to that. The experience of coming through here and playing is always good to build off of. I told my underclassmen to remember how tonight feels and carry it with you because it’s gut-wrenching to see eight kids you grew up with and it’s the last time you get to play with them.”