With six consecutive regional titles and back-to-back appearances in the Class 6A state final, one could make a case that Center Grove has been the top high school football program in Indiana this decade.

There shouldn’t be any reason to view the Trojans as the plucky underdogs heading into their sectional opener tonight at Franklin Central. And yet, that’s exactly how some see Center Grove after it finished the regular season at 4-5, matching the worst mark in Eric Moore’s 19 years as head coach.

The Trojans may appear to be down, having dropped three of their past four games — but they’re certainly not out.

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“Everything that happened is behind us,” senior offensive tackle Cory Heinrichs said. “We’re going forward with a new season. I feel like we’re going to be going in pretty strong and going in confident — not too confident, but confident.”

And this team has reason to be confident despite its record. According to the Sagarin computer rankings, Center Grove has played the second-toughest schedule in the state this year, just behind conference rival Warren Central. Franklin Central and Columbus North might be coming into the sectional with flashy 8-1 records, but Sagarin still ranks the Trojans (fifth in the state) ahead of both the Flashes (17th) and Bull Dogs (ninth).

All of Center Grove’s five losses came to teams ranked in Sagarin’s top seven — and excluding a 40-7 defeat against No. 1 Ben Davis, who has crushed pretty much everyone, the average margin of the losses was five points.

A few plays in the other direction, and the Trojans might be 8-1. They’re not, of course, but they know the results that they want aren’t out of reach.

“It’s been really difficult, because obviously, we’re not used to this,” junior quarterback Jackson Moore said of the regular season. “We know we’re good enough to make a run. We’ve just made so many mental mistakes this year. Fumbling the ball — we never fumble the ball — and I’ve thrown a bunch of costly interceptions.

“(But) we know if everything is clicking — if we’re not making mental mistakes, we’re hitting our blocks, the running backs are blocking, our linemen our blocking, everyone knows their key, everyone knows what they’re doing, no one can stop us.”

Most 4-5 teams might not possess that sort of self-assuredness, but most teams also don’t have the Trojans’ track record of success. For all of its struggles so far this season, Center Grove still has that aura, and its opponents will be up against that as well.

“The big thing is, we are the program that’s been to the finals the last two years,” Eric Moore said. “I don’t care who you are — if Center Grove is the team you’ve got to play in the playoffs, you’ve got to be thinking about that.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.