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Familiar foe, coach stand between Trojans, state finals

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Center Grove Senior Logan Hutson runs for a long first quarter touchdown in Friday night's sectional game vs New Albany
Center Grove Senior Logan Hutson runs for a long first quarter touchdown in Friday night's sectional game vs New Albany

Whatever pressures go along with coaching in a Class 6A semistate won’t be apparent about 45 minutes before tonight’s kickoff.

Somewhere around the massive gold “W” in the middle of Warren Central’s football field, longtime friends Eric Moore and Jayson West will reminisce and reflect on the seasons of their respective programs through 12 weeks of play.

Rest assured, laughter will be involved.

“Last year we just stood there and cut up before the game,” remembered West, the first-year Warriors coach who in 2012 guided Lawrence Central past the Trojans, 28-15, in a 5A semistate en route to the program’s first state title. “(Moore) has got a lot of gravitational pull as a person.

“A lot of football coaches around Indianapolis are close, so it can be tough.”

Translation: One has to lose.

These teams opened the season Aug. 23, with Center Grove winning 21-10. Center Grove went on to share the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference title with Carmel, while the Warriors adapted to West’s new system in time to produce a two-touchdown victory against Cathedral the very next week.

The same 120 yards of artificial surface used in Week 1’s showdown in humid conditions is about to witness a semistate champion crowned in November cold.

Moore’s first 14 seasons with the Trojans produced seven Class 5A semistate appearances, five of which were played at the opponent’s stadium. Center Grove’s record is 2-5, having qualified for the state final in 2000 at the RCA Dome and 2008 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I feel like I’m the Marv Levy of semistates,” Moore said, alluding to the former Buffalo Bills coach who from 1990-93 finished on the losing end of four consecutive Super Bowls.

Prior to winning at Warren Central this season, Trojans ball clubs had lost nine consecutive games there — eight regular-season and one semistate — by an average of 20.8 points dating back to the 1997 formation of the MIC.

Center Grove started this season with a six-game winning streak and now has won five straight after stubbing its toe with a 37-20 loss to Ben Davis on Oct. 4. By outscoring the opposition 257-79, the post-BD Trojans have been even more impressive than the pre-BD version.

“We got a little bit humbled with Ben Davis. After that, the season then turned by getting some players healthy again, and those two long road trips (to Cincinnati La Salle and Jeffersonville) helped bring our kids together even more,” Moore said.

“It’s not bad this week. It’s not a two-hour trip. It’s a place we’ve been to and won at. I can detect our players have a little more confidence.”

The Trojans come in averaging 283.3 yards rushing. Junior speedster Max Norris accounts for 1,217 of Center Grove’s yards on only 88 carries for astounding 13.8 norm per carry. Senior fullback Lane Morris and his backup, freshman Titus McCoy, are next in line with 452 and 442 yards, respectively.

In all, 43 of the team’s 71 touchdowns have been produced via the ground component of Moore’s wing-T offense. Senior quarterback Luke Calvert is credited for passing for a program single-season record of 23 scores, including six apiece to split ends Justin Veteto and Devon Hensley and four to Matt O’Brien.

Senior tackle Dillon Dallas leads the defense with his nine-and-a-half sacks and 68 tackles. Senior free safety Alex Auckerman’s 73 tackles and five interceptions are team-bests through 12 games, with junior linebacker Keith Sears good for 63 tackles and senior end Kaleb Kelsheimer 61.

“Center Grove is just great at what they do. Those kids love their school and play so hard. They don’t do much. They just do what they do better than everyone else,” West said. “And they don’t lose games. You have to beat them.”

West attempts to do so with an offense led by senior quarterback Jeff George, who has completed 96 of 196 passes for 1,466 yards and 16 touchdowns. Junior Tirone Young is Warren Central’s leading rusher with 756 yards and five TDs.

Tonight will be the Warriors’ first semistate berth since 2009. It was here Warren Central defeated Center Grove 28-10 to qualify to face Carmel in the Class 5A state championship game (won 42-36 by the Warriors in double-overtime).

West is the program’s third head coach since then.

“These kids have had to go through a lot. They survived one of the toughest schedules in the state and are on their third coach in three years. That’s three different offenses, three different defenses, three different ways of doing things,” West said.

“We’ve had our good and bad moments this season, but I think we’re getting better every week, and you have to give our players all the credit in the world for that.”

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