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Trojans have shined when tourney time rolls around

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It’s Trojan time.

Pick your reason — a tough schedule, playoff experience, fundamental execution, a confounding offensive scheme.

Whatever the impetus, the results on the football field are clear.

When the bright lights of November shine, nobody is as successful during the past five years as Class 5A Center Grove.

As the Trojans host Lawrence Central in a semistate game that looks to be a toss-up, there is one thing unquestionably on the side of the home team: history.

Simply put, when hardware is on the line, coach Eric Moore’s team delivers.

During the past five seasons, Center Grove has won 18 of its 21 playoff games, an astounding 86 percent. The mark is even better (15-1) against teams from outside the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (the only loss to Columbus East in 2010).

By comparison, Carmel is 16-5 (76 percent).

Indeed, the Trojans have a better winning record in the postseason than in the regular season (34-11, 76 percent) over that time frame. All of those regular-season losses came against MIC teams. Roncalli is the last non-MIC team to defeat Center Grove (2005).

Of course, you can throw those records out the window tonight, when all that matters is what happens on the field.

No. 1 Lawrence Central is every bit the equal to Center Grove, as an undefeated record attests.

The Bears also have had recent postseason success, including a 2010 state title game appearance.

Like other teams the Trojans have beaten already this season, Lawrence Central might have more raw athletic talent. Certainly that also was the case with Ben Davis, Warren Central, and arguably Castle, all of whom went home with losses.

Like those teams, the Bears probably have more team speed, as well.

This is a game won by teams, though, not the side with the quickest speed in the 40 or the most NCAA Division I recruits. Sure, that helps, but it does not decide.

So, what is it that makes the Trojans so successful in November?

Four things stand out:

A tough regular-season schedule: When Center Grove joined the MIC more than a decade ago, cynics wondered whether the Trojans could keep up on the football field with the bigger schools in the conference.

Turn that doubt around. A good argument can be made that Center Grove would not be playing tonight in its fourth semistate in five years without that tough MIC preparation.

Simply put, there is a very good reason that the Trojans are vying to become the 11th state champ from the MIC in the past 12 years. The regular-season competition is a perfect training ground.

By the time Center Grove and other MIC teams reach the playoffs, they have been tested, poked and stretched unlike any other school. More importantly, they have responded to that adversity.

Castle stands as Exhibit A. The Trojans’ talented regional foe simply could not stand up to the relentless pressure after a key injury.

Playoff experience: Every team hopes to do well in the postseason. Some teams expect it.

That is not to minimize the efforts of every squad that has a goal of winning a state title. There is, though, a mental aspect that comes only by breaking through and being there repeatedly.

Center Grove has it.

No player on this team can tell you they are surprised to be playing for a trip to the state title game tonight. They expected to be here.

That expectation started the moment the Trojans’ fourth-down last-gasp pass fell short at Carmel in last year’s semistate and carried through summer workouts and a grueling regular season.

I guarantee that no one on this team penciled in an out-of-town trip for Thanksgiving weekend.

Fundamental execution: High school football is a giant chess game with teenagers as the pieces. The coaches’ job is to get those pieces in position to win.

Of course, no matter how well intended, there is an X factor when it comes to players reading, reacting and positioning. In most games, this is far more significant than the singular heroics or ability of a particular player.

The Trojans understand that better than some teams.

Play your position and trust your teammates to do the same.

Fundamentals, discipline and execution. They may not be flashy, but they win games.

The wing-T magic show: The wisdom of Moore in implementing the wing-T system becomes more evident with each season, and especially with each playoff win.

There may not be an offensive scheme on the prep level more challenging to defend. That is especially the case for teams like Lawrence Central, who do not play against it during the regular season.

Sure, you can watch film and try to replicate it with a scout team. Until a counter criss-cross is run against you at game speed, though, the challenge is not fully understood.

It is a system that takes advantage of the Trojans’ experience and intelligence to use misdirection as a weapon. Sure, be aggressive, the message reads to quicker teams, and it will be used against you.

The value of the wing-T is especially clear this season, where three top backs have been sidelined, but the system is still producing big yards.

Add the wrinkle of an increasingly effective play-action passing game, and the Trojans are becoming an offensive beast.

So, once again, it is November and, once again, Center Grove is on the verge of something special.

It didn’t just happen. It has been carefully scripted in a manner leading to these moments.

Cue the November lights. It’s Trojan time.

Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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