Center Grove hasn’t scheduled Columbus North in football in 20 years, yet a rivalry has emerged through postseason competition.
Since the Trojans’ 48-0 victory in Week 4 of the 1997 campaign, Center Grove has met the Bull Dogs on eight occasions in a sectional, including five of the past six years.
Tonight’s Class 6A Sectional 8 championship game at Center Grove makes it six of seven. It’s been a one-sided rivalry of late, with the Trojans winning five straight meetings — including the past four by a combined 171-35 margin.
Center Grove coach Eric Moore still remembers tougher games with both the Bull Dogs and Columbus East Olympians, though, and he never expects an easy game from either one.
“They beat us in 2007, and Columbus East beat us in 2010,” said Moore, whose squads have never faced a Columbus team in the regular season. “With Columbus North, we play them almost every year, and this is one of the fastest teams they’ve had.
“They have great pride and it’s a good program. A physical team that is a good tackling team.”
Four football programs are part of Johnson County’s recent postseason connection to the two Columbus programs.
This evening’s game at Center Grove is the 19th time since 2000 that a county team has played North or East, with the Trojans being part of 10 of those games.
Columbus North coach Tim Bless, who holds a 2-4 postseason mark against Johnson County schools, uses Weeks 1 and 2 of the regular season to play nonconference games. The Bull Dogs’ crosstown rivalry with East has been a Week 2 staple since Bless’ first season (2000).
The Bull Dogs have opened against Franklin every year since 2015, with the contract between the schools to expire following the 2018 game. With the Grizzly Cubs a Class 5A program, there is no chance of a tournament rematch.
Franklin is the first local team to face a Columbus squad in the regular season since Greenwood’s 28-7 loss to East to open the 2011 season. The Woodmen and Olympians started 15 consecutive seasons (1997-2011) against one another.
“The Johnson County teams are quality opponents with good crowds,” said Bless, who will not be on the sideline tonight due to a suspension. “I would personally like to see someone other than Center Grove, but I say that out of respect. They certainly are the sectional frontrunner until someone says otherwise.
“But that’s the nature of 6A football. There are no free lunches.”
Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher, whose program is 1-2 against perennial power Columbus East and was a two-point loser to Columbus North in 2012, sees advantages to keeping such games against the Columbus schools in the postseason.
Attempting to defeat a quality opponent once in a season is challenging enough.
“I enjoy playing someone in the tournament that I haven’t played in the regular season. I like that,” Fisher said. “I think being familiar with an opponent is a disadvantage in our case.
“You have to come up with a new wrinkle when you play someone a second time.”
Since 2000, Johnson County football teams have had their share of sectional battles against programs from Columbus:
Center Grove (Record: 7-2)
2002;Beat Columbus North, 35-0
2007;Lost to Columbus North, 23-7
2009;Beat Columbus East, 21-14
2010;Lost to Columbus East, 27-13
2011:Beat Columbus North, 38-24
2012;Beat Columbus North, 42-7
2014;Beat Columbus North, 54-7
2015;Beat Columbus North, 34-7
2016;Beat Columbus North, 41-14
Franklin (Record: 0-2)
2002;Lost to Columbus East, 38-24
2015;Lost to Columbus East, 56-28
Greenwood (Record: 0-1)
2013;Lost to Columbus East, 49-14
Whiteland (Record: 3-3)
2001;Beat Columbus East, 42-28
2002;Beat Columbus East, 40-23
2010;Beat Columbus East, 59-22
2012;Lost to Columbus North, 35-33
2015;Lost to Columbus East, 28-14
2016;Lost to Columbus East, 56-31