Thirteen years and five days have passed since Center Grove football posted what Eric Moore refers to as the biggest victory of the 130 he’s experienced as the Trojans coach: Center Grove 10, Carmel 9.
A mighty, flame-exhaling dragon slayed. An identity born. A corner turned.
“I’ve always liked playing Carmel because when I got here (in 1999) they were a measuring stick,” Moore said. “The 10-9 game here in 2000 told us, ‘We can do this.’”
This stroll down memory lane is necessary in that Carmel’s series lead of 12-5 since both programs helped form the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference in 1998 is much closer than advertised.
Factoring in that 11 games have been decided by seven or fewer points is, alone, eye-opening. Better yet, nine of those 11 had margins of four or fewer points. Three one-pointers exist, the first being the one referenced by Moore.
The cold reality for Center Grove is a five-game losing streak to the Greyhounds. The program’s most recent win against the seven-time state champions occurred in 2008 with an epic come-from-behind 36-33 decision in the Class 5A state championship game.
Moore continues to emphasize how important it is to defeat a program as respected as Carmel’s. This as opposed to, say, some 5A team from a far-reaching corner of Indiana that might have just been happy to be there.
What level of drama tonight’s CG-Carmel battle brings is anyone’s guess.
Center Grove is coming off a 56-0 drubbing of Whiteland, while the ’Hounds, ranked No. 5 in Class 6A, dropped a 42-35 decision at home against mighty Louisville Trinity, the nation’s No. 23-ranked squad, according to USA Today.
“Nobody likes to lose, but we also know when you play a team of that caliber you want to see improvement,” said Carmel coach Kevin Wright, whose team won its opener, 6-2, at Tech the week before. “What we wanted to see was improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, and we felt like we did that.
“If we can make the same strides this week, we’ll be on course.”
Center Grove has not won at Carmel since its 32-31 double-overtime victory in 2007. The 2010 Trojans lost there once (17-14), the 2011 squad twice (42-17 in Week 3 and 21-17 in a Class 5A semistate). Center Grove also won there in 2001 (26-13) and 2003 (27-20).
Moore knows the Trojans have their work cut out, especially with the Greyhounds coming off what is only the sixth loss under Wright since he became coach in 2010.
“I’m sure they’ll take great motivation from their last loss,” Moore said. “Carmel is physical and fast with great athletes. They tackle so solid. You play them and you’re not going to get many missed tackles.”
The Trojans’ defense, led by the senior trio of nose tackle Dillon Dallas, linebacker Keegan McFatridge and safety Alex Auckerman, has allowed but 10 points through two games.
Tonight it faces its biggest challenge to date in Carmel quarterback John Lampe. Now a senior, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Lampe shredded Center Grove in 2012 with 223 passing yards and a touchdown on 23-of-30 marksmanship in the Greyhounds’ 31-21 victory.
Ten of those completions and 116 of those yards were attributed to 6-2, 215-pound senior Austin Roberts, who has already committed to play at UCLA.
While Wright admits to not being a fan of a two-quarterback system, he’s used 5-11, 180-pound junior Isaac James in an effort to keep defenses off-balance. Lampe is more the conventional drop-back passer, with James bringing more of a run element to the position.
The Carmel coach already has seen plenty of Center Grove seniors Dallas and halfback Logan Hutson, varsity players as early as their freshman season. Wright isn’t necessarily excited about seeing them again.
“This is a year (Moore) has been pointing to, so I don’t think it’s any surprise Center Grove is where it’s at,” Wright said. “When you’re talking about a team that’s senior-dominated or dominated by upperclassmen the way they are, that always helps early in the season. Their playmakers are guys that have been making plays for years.”