Six consecutive semistate berths is an achievement Center Grove’s football program may or may not replicate in the years ahead.
The visiting Trojans appeared primed for a seventh straight Friday night until turnovers tripped them up.
Sixth-ranked Avon’s 32-21 victory sends the Orioles to No. 1 Ben Davis for next week’s Class 6A southern semistate. The Trojans finish the season with a record of 6-6.
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Afterward, Center Grove coach Eric Moore reflected on his program having accrued a 25-6 record in postseason games since the 2011 season.
“It probably doesn’t get talked about enough. If it were somewhere else, that’s all they would talk about,” he said. “We’re sort of like that little guy in the corner and no one cares about us, and, boom, there we are in the big game.
“We love big games. We didn’t play as well in a big game tonight, but it wasn’t because of the game. It was because of the circumstances. We just made some key errors.”
Three second-quarter miscues by the Trojans led to two Avon scores and prevented Center Grove from one of its own. The team’s three touchdowns all were by freshman running back Carson Steele, who busted loose for 271 yards rushing on 30 carries.
Junior Sam Hohlt broke the century mark with 106 yards on only three rushing attempts.
But after grabbing a 14-6 lead on touchdown runs of 42 and 19 yards by Steele, turnovers became the Trojans’ worst enemy.
From that point, the momentum was all Avon’s.
After an Orioles field goal made it a 14-9 count with 44 seconds left in the first, the ensuing Trojans series was cut short after Jackson Moore’s interception was returned 18 yards by Kamryn Molton to the visitors’ 47-yard line.
Cameron Misner’s 6-yard slant to a diving Luke Shayotovich put Avon ahead, 16-14, with 6:34 left in the second quarter. Hohlt fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Orioles’ senior receiver Isaac Guerendo took a reverse 23 yards into the end zone on the next play.
Hohlt quickly atoned with a 55-yard run down to the Avon 17 late in the second, but the Trojans failed to capitalize. On third-and-6 from the home team’s 7, Moore fumbled after being sacked with junior defensive end Trey Howe pouncing on the pigskin.
Avon took an eight-point halftime lead and quickly widened it to 29-14 only 22 seconds into the third quarter. The score, a 10-yard pass from Misner to Guerendo, was set up by Sampson James’ 78-yard kickoff return to open the third.
Center Grove made it suspenseful with Steele bolting 87 yards to the end zone, but Orioles’ senior Justin Heidom’s 21-yard field goal with 11:21 left in the fourth would be the game’s final points.
Avon did a much better job of taking care of the football, not turning it over once.
“It was a strange game. At times you thought we were falling off a cliff and couldn’t get up. Then we come back and Carson Steele has an amazing game. Our defense at times played unbelievable,” coach Moore said. “And then we would give up a play. Turn the ball over.
“It was indicative of a team that is as injured as we are and aren’t consistent. It’s been a tough road this year. The schedule took its toll on us and we weren’t able to recover from it. (Avon) is a good team. They’ve got great skill players.”