Center Grove’s coaches and fans might have needed a few more Alka-Seltzers than they would have liked, but the Trojans’ season isn’t over yet.
Columbus North fought through injuries and had a chance to steal the game at the end, but a defensive stop in the closing seconds allowed the Trojans to escape with a 20-14 victory and a seventh consecutive Class 6A sectional title.
Center Grove (6-5) will travel to Avon for a regional showdown next week.
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“Crazy game, but we found a way to win,” Trojan coach Eric Moore said. “Can’t give enough credit to Columbus North; they fought their hearts out. They mustered up some great energy to come back and be in that game.
“We just never could do anything to destroy their heart.”
Down by six, Columbus North (9-2) regained possession at its 16 with 2:09 to go. Jaylen Flemmons completed two passes to move it to midfield, but Tyler Watson picked off a fourth-down pass to clinch the outcome.
After being stopped on its first possession of the night, Center Grove set itself up with a short field on its second when Cole Williams got a piece of a Columbus North punt, leaving the ball at the Bull Dogs’ 29-yard line. That set the stage for a 41-yard field goal from Luke Eckert.
North continued to struggle offensively, especially after starting quarterback Trenton Kelley went down with a first-quarter injury, and Center Grove continued to start with excellent field position. Early in the second quarter, the Trojans took advantage of that field position when Carson Steele ripped off a 32-yard run to set up his 2-yard scoring dive a play later.
Gavin Matheson stretched the Center Grove lead to 17-0 with his 42-yard touchdown run at the 3:18 mark, but the Bull Dogs were able to sneak in a touchdown drive before the half, getting on the board when Flemmons hit J.D. Harris from 14 yards out.
The Trojans ate up nearly six minutes of clock to start the second half, capping a 12-play drive with a 24-yard field goal from Eckert. A pair of long missed kicks left a window open for Columbus North, and the Bull Dogs started to step through it when Flemmons found Harris for a 16-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to 20-14 with 4:25 left.
Center Grove recovered an onside kick attempt near midfield but couldn’t kill the remaining clock, and Columbus North had one last chance. Fortunately for the Trojans, the defense was able to finish the job.
“(Flemmons) is an amazing athlete, keeps extending the play,” Watson said, “so on the back end we just had to keep finding receivers to guard and then knock the ball down or pick it off.”
Steele rushed for 125 yards to lead the Trojans offensively, while Matheson added 94 more.