A little good fortune stretched just far enough for Center Grove to remain undefeated Friday night.
By eking out a 14-13 victory over Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference newcomer Pike, the state’s second-ranked squad in Class 6A improved to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the league standings.
Senior quarterback Luke Calvert passed for 173 yards and scored the winning touchdown on a 6-yard run with 9:10 remaining to lead the Trojans offense.
Afterward, it was Center Grove’s defense that was earning the highest of marks from coach Eric Moore.
“I’m really proud of our defense for holding them to 13 points. That’s a great effort,” said Moore, whose club must now prepare to play at Class 6A No. 1 Lawrence Central next Friday. “We’re about defense here, but I honestly thought (Pike) would score five or six touchdowns because of their big-play capability and maybe we could just match them.”
The passing and running of 6-foot-3, 191-pound senior quarterback Brent Lyles kept the Trojans’ “D” on its toes the entire evening.
It was Lyles’ 3-yard dive into the end zone with only 4:50 to play that positioned the sixth-ranked Red Devils within a point at 14-13. It’s here Center Grove dodged a major bullet when senior kicker Chaise Watkins pulled the ensuing conversion kick left.
The Trojans’ next offensive series mustered only five yards in three downs, forcing a punt from their own 41.
The snap sailed over the head of Matt O’Brien all the way inside Center Grove’s own 10. The senior hurried to retrieve the football, got the punt off from his own 8 and was roughed by a Pike defender, giving the Trojans an automatic first down with 3:44 left.
Pike did eventually get the ball back, starting from its own 29 with 1:57 remaining and no timeouts. Lyles managed to get his offense as far as the Trojans’ 47, an intentional grounding followed by two straight incompletions gave Center Grove the ball back at 1:12.
“I thought our kids played a real cerebral game tonight,” said Moore. “For us, it’s all about playing week-to-week.”
Junior back Calvin Daggett led all ball carriers with 72 yards in 12 carries for the Trojans. Sophomore Lee Clinker rushed 10 times for 37 yards and a score.
“We had some injuries tonight, but we had other guys really step up. Lee Clinker wasn’t even in the gameplan, and he had some big runs and scored a touchdown,” said Moore.
Center Grove churned out 233 yards of offense in the first half, but had only seven points to show for it.
Twos were wild for the Trojans when with 2:22 remaining in the first quarter, No. 22, Clinker, burrowed in from 2 yards out to account for the home team’s 7-0 lead at intermission.
The points capped an 11-play, 78-yard drive, the biggest play being O’Brien’s 16-yard pass to Alex Auckerman on fourth-and-3 from the Pike 41.
This isn’t to say Center Grove didn’t have other opportunities.
On the team’s next offensive series, Calvert hit a wide-open O’Brien at the Red Devils 28. O’Brien motored all the way to the Pike 2 before fumbling the football out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Center Grove two plays later recovered a Red Devils fumble deep in Pike territory courtesy of junior lineman Gavin Everett. That drive, too, produced a goose-egg with Pike blocking the 36-yard field goal attempt of Trojans kicker Seth Northern at 7:11 of the second stanza.
Moore’s team also squandered a golden opportunity late in the second, making it as far as the Pike 11 before misfiring on a trick play with 26.3 seconds showing.
The Red Devils also were ineffective with their scoring chances by having drives conk out at the Trojans 9-, 14- and 30-yard lines. The first and last ended thanks to interceptions by Auckerman and senior Aaron Hunt, respectively.
Overall, Center Grove finished with 333 yards compared to Pike’s 353.