It’s officially a football rivalry now.
Center Grove’s 14-13 narrow escape at Whiteland on Friday night signaled a much-needed competitiveness sorely lacking the past three meetings when the Trojans breezed to lopsided victories.
Ranked No. 7 in Class 6A, Center Grove tied the game on Max Norris’ 5-yard touchdown blast up the gut with 8:48 remaining in the fourth quarter. The ensuing extra-point kick by junior Nathanael Snyder proved to be the difference.
“I said it would be a dogfight,” Trojans coach Eric Moore said afterward. “Whiteland is talking about getting to that next level, and I have a lot of respect for them. I hope they win every game from now on, and they just might.”
Ranked sixth in 5A, the Warriors rushed for 207 yards in the opening half alone. Had it been 208 the final outcome could have been different.
Sophomore quarterback Jace Carpenter’s plunge on fourth-and-goal from the Trojans’ 1 was ruled down for no gain at 10.6 seconds of the second stanza or Whiteland would have held a two-touchdown halftime advantage instead of leading 13-7.
“I thought we played fantastic defensively. We executed our plan as well as we could. Obviously the stop on fourth-and-1 at the goal line was huge,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said.
“We played well enough to win. We played hard enough to win. But we made too many mistakes. The margin of error was so small that any error was going to be magnified.”
More often than not the Warriors took advantage of Center Grove’s penchant for penalties (11 for 105 yards).
In the end, however, the Warriors weren’t able to capitalize. Whiteland’s final two offensive series never made it past the Warriors’ own 40-yard line.
“I’m proud of our guys for hanging together. We showed tonight we can come back and win a game,” Moore said.
Whiteland junior Shaw Cloud’s scoring burst of 18 yards in the opening stanza and his 48-yarder at 6:45 of the second were sandwiched around a 30-yard TD run by CG’s Norris.
The Warriors’ second scoring series covered 80 yards in eight plays. Whiteland greatly benefited from a 15-yard Center Grove facemask penalty.
Two plays later, Cloud was in the end zone once again.
While Norris led all ball carriers with 14 attempts for 113 yards, the 5-foot-11, 178-pound Cloud countered with 94 yards and the two scores on 12 tries. Only three of Cloud’s yards came in the second half.
Losing 6-4, 294-pound junior offensive lineman Tyler Johnson to injury in the third quarter and game-breaking senior wideout Isaiah Calaway in the fourth made Whiteland’s comeback attempts that much more difficult.
No excuses from Fisher. Simply a matter of better execution next time around.
“Little things make a difference in games like this,” he said.
Center Grove (1-1) returns home next Friday to host Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rival 6A No. 1 Carmel. The Warriors (1-1), meanwhile, travel to Decatur Central to open the Mid-State Conference portion of their regular-season schedule.