Any talk of Center Grove’s football demise may have been a bit premature.
The Trojans showed no signs of being scarred by a frustrating regular season, opening Class 6A sectional play with a methodical 35-3 road win against Franklin Central on Friday night.
Center Grove (5-5) will host Columbus North (9-1) in a sectional title game next week.
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“We’ve been a tough out in this tournament for a long time,” said Center Grove coach Eric Moore. “I think we’ve won more 6A tourney games than anybody in the state the last five or six years. We’re not an easy out. So, on we go.”
Franklin Central’s offense gobbled up most of the first-quarter clock with an 18-play opening possession, but the Center Grove defense held firm at the 10 and forced a field goal.
Coming back the other way, the Trojans turned their first drive into a 3-yard Carson Steele scoring run with 10:51 to go in the half. The TD was set up by a 38-yard toss from Jackson Moore to Sam Hohlt on third and long.
Franklin Central went three and out on its next drive, and Center Grove’s Riley Roberts stretched the lead to 14-3 when he got a running start on a line-drive punt and took it 42 yards to the end zone. That score held through the end of the first half.
The Flashes were given an opportunity when Steele fumbled the ball away on the Trojans’ first possession of the third quarter, but Center Grove escaped without harm when Keegan Gephart made a juggling interception.
That was the last time Franklin Central — which averaged 32 points a game during an 8-1 regular season — came close to the end zone until the final minutes.
“We just made some adjustments, played together as a team and did it for each other,” said Gephart, who had a team-high eight tackles, including a sack.
Given a reprieve, the Trojans created some breathing room with a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, all on the ground. Cam Petty finished off the march with a 2-yard scoring plunge at the 1:15 mark of the third.
Steele busted loose for a 41-yard TD run with 10:10 to go in the game, then tacked on a 5-yard score with 6:39 left to bury the Flashes. The freshman finished the night with 180 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Center Grove ran for 259 yards overall, imposing its will on the Franklin Central defense along the line of scrimmage.
“I’m just real proud of the way we played physically the rest of the game,” Eric Moore said. “We just ran the ball hard; we’re capable of doing that.
“You get in the playoffs, a muddy night like this, we’re built for this stuff.”