Being upgraded to No. 1 in the Class 6A football poll isn’t a process normally accompanied by music.
Nevertheless, Center Grove coach Eric Moore claims the eerie theme from the movie “Jaws” has been stuck in his mind all week.
Moore is joking. Or sandbagging. Or both.
This much is certain: The Trojans, off to their fifth 4-0 start in Moore’s 15 seasons, have moved from second fiddle to the mountaintop after defeating three programs presently ranked among the top eight in Class 6A.
All Center Grove has to do to stay there is beat the defending Class 5A state champion — at their place.
Such is life in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference. Sweat out a 14-13 victory against one of the league’s two newcomers (No. 8 Pike) and immediately begin preparations for a trip to Indianapolis’ Eastside to face the other in fourth-ranked Lawrence Central.
“We’re happy we’re No. 1. We’re proud of that because this is something our players can tell their kids someday,” Moore said. “But right now we have injuries that will change our starting lineup.”
The Trojans’ depth at running back has and will continue to be tested. Logan Hutson, Lane Morris, Calvin Daggett, Lee Clinker and Max Norris all have sustained injuries at various points this season.
Not the best time to be lined up against what Moore calls “one of the best defenses I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching in Indiana.”
Bears outside linebacker Brandon Lee is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior who has numerous offers from Division I schools including Oregon, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Penn State. Junior linebacker Darrin Kirkland, who is 6-2, 220, already has secured scholarship offers from, among others, Louisville, Indiana and Illinois.
“That defense is relentless. I think it’s better than the Warren Central defenses in 2005 and 2006,” Moore said. “There’s not a weakness anywhere.”
Lawrence Central’s offense also features a pair of Division I prospects in 6-3, 300-pound lineman Kevin Willis and 6-3, 190-pound receiver Kenny Jones. The quarterback is 5-11 senior Tyler Redfern, who has completed 40 of 71 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns in his three starts.
Redfern is a threat to run the football, having rushed for 134 yards and four scores. Lawrence Central’s top ground gainers through four games are backs Mark Wilson (207 yards) and Torrell Williamsom (147).
First-year Bears coach Jed Richman came to the program from Western Boone, where from 2010-12 he led the Stars to a 25-9 record. Before that he worked five seasons as an assistant at Carmel under then-Greyhounds coach Mo Moriarity.
“I cut my teeth coaching in the MIC. Week in and week out there it’s just great coaching in this league,” said Richman, 34. “Coach Moore, geez, is just a tremendous coach.
“Center Grove is very disciplined, they play extremely hard and are physical. They’re going to hit you for four quarters, and that’s a reflection of their coach. You have to bring your ‘A’ game when you play them.”
While questions persist regarding the Trojans’ offense, the defensive unit is allowing only 12.3 points a game. Senior tackle Dillon Dallas leads the county in quarterback sacks with four, while safety Alex Auckerman and linebackers Keith Sears and Keegan McFatridge are also mainstays.
Only two starters return on offense from last season’s undefeated Lawrence Central squad. They along with other Bears players continue to adapt to new offensive and defensive schemes.
“We’ve had some growing pains,” Richman said. “It’s going to come down to 10 plays in some games. Tony Dungy has a great quote: The team that handles adversity the best will be champions.”
Center Grove, which is facing its share, hopes so.
CAUGHT IN A TRAP
Before meeting November, 22 years had passed since the most recent time Center Grove faced Lawrence Central in football. The Trojans have won only twice in the past eight match-ups:
2012* Lawrence Central 28, Center Grove 15
1990 Lawrence Central 33, Center Grove 9
1989 Lawrence Central 33, Center Grove 0
1987 Center Grove 7, Lawrence Central 6
1986 Lawrence Central 33, Center Grove 21
1985 Lawrence Central 33, Center Grove 7
1984 Center Grove 20, Lawrence Central 6
1983 Lawrence Central 19, Center Grove 0
*Class 5A semistate