It would likely be futile attempting to convince Franklin Community High School football coach Brian Harbin there are five Class 5A football teams better than No. 6 Center Grove.
Or, for that matter, one or two.
By virtue of Friday night’s 62-6 victory at Franklin, the defending champion Trojans move on to next week’s sectional title game.
Center Grove (10-1) hosts Columbus North (6-5), which advanced with a 17-14 win against visiting Franklin Central in the other sectional semifinal.
“Center Grove is 10-1, and they’re 10-1 for a reason. That is an outstanding football team,” said Harbin after watching the Trojans’ wing-T offense pile up 416 rushing yards and 482 overall. “I’m proud of our kids. They played hard.
“But Center Grove out-hit us and came out and got it.”
The Trojans put their stamp on this one early en route to its sixth double-digit-win season under 14th-year coach Eric Moore (two of his other squads produced nine wins). They rushed for 295 yards in the first two quarters to blow open the game with a 48-6 halftime cushion.
Senior halfback Conner Stapleton powered the ground game with scoring on runs of 71, 57 and 35 yards. He had 174 yards at halftime on only six carries. Those would be his final numbers, as Moore began substituting freely midway through the second period.
In all, nine different Center Grove players carried the football.
“I really liked the way we came out after it tonight against an opponent we don’t get to play often,” said Moore, who has guided the Trojans to eight sectional finals. “I challenged our players to be intense and to make it mean something, and they did.”
The Trojans had a 28-0 cushion when Franklin finally averted the shutout on Ross Barr’s 5-yard blast up the middle nearly two minutes into the second quarter. Center Grove responded with 20 consecutive points, including two of Stapleton touchdown runs and a 10-yarder from sophomore Calvin Daggett.
Defensively, Center Grove allowed the Grizzly Cubs a total of 74 yards in the first half in 28 plays. By game’s end, Franklin (4-7) had managed only 134 yards of offense, 60 courtesy of Barr, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior, on 23 carries.
Barr also finished with two receptions for 18 yards.
Next week’s sectional championship marks the fourth time the Trojans have faced the Bull Dogs in the Moore era. Center Grove defeated Columbus North 38-24 in last season’s semifinal; lost to the Bulldogs 23-7 in a 2007 semifinal; and shut them out 35-0 in 2002.
“They’ll be physical, and they always have a great defense,” Moore said. “Just good toughness and good team speed.”
Since suffering its lone loss of the season, a 31-21 decision at home against defending Class 5A champion Carmel on Aug. 31, Center Grove has won eight consecutive games while averaging 39 points and limiting the opposition to 10. For the record, Moore’s 2008 state titlists also lost Week 3 at home to the Greyhounds in what was its only setback of the season.