Center Grove entered Friday’s game ranked third in the Class 6A poll and tied for fourth in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference standings.
An unusual combination, but one that demonstrates the league’s power.
Lawrence Central rallied for a 14-12 victory, which evened the Trojans’ season record to 3-3. Coach Eric Moore’s squad squandered numerous offensive opportunities – five occasions inside Bears’ territory without a point to show for it – in dropping to 2-3 in conference play.
“Crazy game. We couldn’t get a break there when we had the ball,” Moore said. “Give all the credit to them. They have athletes on defense, and they did a good job tonight.”
Both defenses were superb, but with 1:28 remaining in the fourth the Bears finally broke loose for the big play that had been eluding them all evening.
With a first down at midfield, senior quarterback Donyell Meredith chucked the ball down in the direction of Donivan Wright. The junior timed his leap perfectly against a Trojans’ defender at the 10, came down with the ball and sprinted into the end zone.
Center Grove wasn’t finished and almost produced its own miracle.
On second down from the Trojans’ 27, quarterback Jackson Moore hit Sam Hohlt with a pass at the Lawrence Central 48. Hohlt beat Cameron McGrone on the play and was motoring downfield when McGrone caught up and stripped the ball from Hohlt’s possession.
A Bears player pounced on the football with 1:08 showing at his own 25. Some confusion with the game clock appeared to take away time that might have benefited the Trojans, which put Lawrence Central at fourth down with only 8.7 seconds left.
Meredith intentionally scrambled back to his own end zone and was shoved out for a safety with 1 second remaining.
Lawrence Central kicked off from its 20, but a Trojans player fell on the ball as time expired.
Freshman running back Carson Steele was the workhorse for the Trojans’ offense, carrying a career-high 29 times for 115 yards. Senior Riley Roberts also played a strong game with punt returns of 28, 17 and 13 yards.
A strange game, but one Center Grove dominated early by limiting the Bears to 77 yards of offense in the first half. The Trojans led, 10-0, when the momentum switched with under a minute to go in the second quarter when Jackson Moore’s pass was intercepted for a 55-yard touchdown by Lawrence Central’s Manny Bellamy.
The Trojans opened the scoring on Luke Eckert’s 33-yard field goal in the first quarter. Their series started on the Bears’ 30 thanks to Riley’s 28-yard return.
Later facing third-and-9 from the Lawrence Central 35, Jackson Moore tossed a scoring strike to Hohlt with 7:59 remaining in the second quarter.
Coach Moore hopes the lessons from the loss benefit his program moving forward.
“There was great defense, but obviously we missed some great opportunities,” he said. “Hey, high school kids learned a lot about how to end a football game. It’s a good learning and teaching moment that you can’t set up in practice.”
“For whatever reason tonight, we should have put 21 points on the board early in the game and just didn’t do it. We’re young and learning, and that’s why you keep playing.”
Center Grove returns home next week to host Pike.