They don’t just hand out those No. 1 rankings.
Center Grove’s football team knew this all along. Lawrence Central spent just under three hours Friday night driving home the point anyway.
The top-ranked Bears blindsided the host Trojans with 21-consecutive points in the Class 5A semistate game before settling in with a 28-15 victory.
Lawrence Central (14-0) will play No. 4 Fort Wayne Snider (14-0) the evening of Nov. 24 for the Class 5A state championship in Lucas Oil Stadium.
No. 6 Center Grove, which bowed out of tournament play one large step from downtown Indianapolis for a second-consecutive year, finished 12-2.
“This is what it’s all about. These seniors pouring it all in for 14 weeks,” Trojans coach Eric Moore said while looking around him at Trojans players being consoled by family and friends. “Fourteen weeks is a long time. I’m tired. The kids are tired.”
Everyone involved gladly would have settled for a 15th week of fatigue. Instead, the honor goes to Bears coach Jayson West, a former Center Grove assistant who remains close friends with Moore.
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“I’m so happy for him. I wish I had beat him. It’s fun. We don’t get to hang out like we should,” Moore said. “Jayson’s a great guy. He deserves this. I hate it for my kids, but if we were going to lose to someone, I’m glad it’s him.”
Rushing for 303 yards, the Bears, in a sense, out wing-T’d Center Grove, which managed 140 on the ground and another 167 via the pass.
Hoping for a miracle in the closing minutes, the Trojans drove deep into Lawrence Central territory. A quick-TD-onsides-kick sequence fell by the wayside with 56 seconds remaining after junior quarterback Luke Calvert had his pass in the left flat picked off at the 4.
In the end, though, Lawrence Central’s rocket start proved too steep a hill to climb.
“That wasn’t the (fast start) we wanted,” Moore said. “We gave them three short fields to work with, and you can’t do that against a great football team like that.”
Leading 21-3 late in the second period, Lawrence Central dodged what could have been a major swing in momentum with an interception at the Bears 7. Ironically, the ball was also thrown by a No. 7 (Calvert) and interception by one, as well, in the form of Lawrence Central defensive back Quinten Turman.
The visitors produced 131 of their rushing total in the first half, the key runs coming on touchdowns of 10 and 25 yards by tailback Alex Rodriguez. Sandwiched between was a 13-yard scoring strike from Christen to wideout Trey White, the latter leaping high to snag the pigskin just over the outstretched reach of Trojans defensive back Josh Piper.
Lawrence Central dominated the field position game with two of its scoring series beginning inside Center Grove territory. The Bears’ other scoring drive — their first — had to cover only 59 yards. Conversely, the Trojans’ first four drives began inside their own 30.
Center Grove’s points came on a 45-yard Ben Wheeler field goal with 2:15 left in the second. It looked as though another seven might be coming on the ensuing series as the Trojans marched from their own 48 to the Lawrence Central 17 before Turman’s theft stalled the drive.
Senior halfback Conner Stapleton made his final performance in Center Grove football gear a good one with 92 yards rushing on 12 carries. He also accounted for both Trojans touchdowns with an 11-yard run and a 4-yard pass reception from Calvert.