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Center Grove schedule makes Castle feel like underdogs despite rankings

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Center Groves Mario Swann celebrates during the Trojans Sectional Championship victory over Columbus North Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Center Groves Mario Swann celebrates during the Trojans Sectional Championship victory over Columbus North Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Forget the ranking. Ignore the perfect record.

Paper data don’t accurately measure the challenge for the Castle football team in tonight’s Class 5A regional final at Center Grove.

At least, that’s the opinion of Knights coach Doug Hurt.

Sure, Castle is 12-0 and ranked No. 3. Center Grove is 11-1 and rated sixth.

But as far as Hurt is concerned, there is no doubt who the favorite is heading in.

“Obviously, we’re the underdogs. It’s an exciting opportunity, and we’re eager for (tonight) to get here,” said Hurt, whose team is one of three unbeatens

still alive in the Class 5A playoffs. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Hurt regards defending regional champion Center Grove the most daunting challenge of what has to date been a perfect season.

Powered by a high-octane offense directed by senior quarterback Mitch Gilles, the Knights have dominated nearly every opponent and have not scored less than 26 points in any game. They average 44 per outing, give up only 15 and are averaging 52 points in the postseason.

Castle has scored 49 or more points in five of its past six games, including last week’s 50-29 sectional championship romp at Jeffersonville, and has beaten all 12 opponents by double figures.

But there’s a caveat.

Unlike Center Grove’s schedule, the Knights play a mix of Class 5A, Class 3A and Class 2A schools. The Trojans play all Class 5A teams, including the seven-game gauntlet of Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rivals.

Although Hurt is abundantly confident in the Knights’ ability to win the regional, he doesn’t discount the disparity in the strength of schedules. Hence, his underdog assertion.

“(The Trojans) have played a little stiffer competition. I think that’s fair to say. We have not had that trial by fire, on a week-to-week basis, anyway,” said Hurt, in his seventh season as head coach. “Our guys are going to see a faster, stronger opponent than what they’re used to seeing.

“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t take two quarters to catch up to that speed, because if it takes that long, we’re going to be in a hole really quickly.”

Conversely, the Knights have the capability of putting opponents in quick holes, too.

One of the state’s top quarterbacks, Gilles has completed 149 of 230 passes for 2,581 yards and 41 touchdowns. He averages 258 yards per game and has thrown only nine interceptions.

Gilles’ No. 1 target is wide receiver Jon Marc-Anderson, who has 66 catches for 1,176 yards and 19 scores.

Yet the Knights aren’t one-dimensional.

Running back Andrew Finch has rushed for 1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averages 5.4 yards per attempt and just more than 100 yards per game.

Defensively, the Knights rely on speed to overcome an overall lack of size, an effective approach that has resulted in limiting seven opponents to two or fewer touchdowns.

“We’ve been able to win football games a lot of different ways,” Hurt said. “There have been games when our defense has played really, really well and maybe our offense didn’t. There have been times when our offense had to pick up the slack when our defense wasn’t on target. The real thing is, we try to be a team that does a few things well.

“We’re not super extravagant. We’re a lot like Center Grove. We want to do a few things well, be very fundamentally sound, and we’re all about playing ‘us versus them’ football.”

Center Grove coach Eric Moore regards Castle as the Trojans’ most dangerous offensive opponent to date. And he doesn’t overlook the Knights’ defensive capabilities, either.

“They’re very fast on defense, which presents problems. Their size isn’t overwhelming, but their speed’s very good,” Moore said. “On offense, it’s going to be maybe one of the toughest challenges for our defense. They spread and throw the ball. They make you defend the run honestly. It’s amazing how well they throw the ball. They’ve very talented.

“(Gilles) throws the ball so accurate. The big thing we’re going to have to do is, we’re going to have to figure out a way to get to him without leaving ourselves open for big plays.”

Underdogs or not, Hurt likes the Knights’ chances of keeping their postseason alive. But he doesn’t expect anything to come easy against what he anticipates will be the toughest opponent to date.

“We feel like we’ve been getting better and better each week,” Hurt said. “The problem is, Center Grove has, as well. They’re really, really playing well right now. They’re such a high-quality football team. They’ve got great athletes. They’re very well-coached, and so we’re going to need every bit of that (undefeated) momentum to be able to go up there and get a win.

“It’s a tough place to play. There’s talent all over the field up there.”

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