No one can accuse Center Grove of feasting on cupcakes this, or any other, football season.
Not only are the Trojans’ first three opponents (Warren Central, Whiteland, Carmel) ranked in the top 10 of their respective classes, it’s a safe bet the next one (Ben Davis) will be, too.
First up are coach Kevin Wright’s Greyhounds, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A and eager for redemption this evening following Center Grove’s 35-26 victory in Hamilton County in last season’s Copper Kettle contest.
“Carmel is the most talented team in the state,” said 16th-year Trojans coach Eric Moore, who is 7-10 all-time against Carmel and 2-5 in home games. “Their backups are just as good as their starters.”
The first of many strengths is the ’Hounds’ offensive line, which returns four starters from last year’s Class 6A state runner-up — seniors Matt Anton, a tackle, and Nate Thompson, center, and juniors Chase Krauter and Simon Pachiarz.
This group was critical in Carmel posting a 14-7 win against Hamilton Southeastern in Week 1 and last week’s 10-7 triumph at perennial state and national power Louisville Trinity.
“Beating Trinity is huge. That’s a big program win for us. They’ve won a state championship 22 times in Kentucky and are three years removed from winning a national championship,” Carmel coach Kevin Wright said.
Those within the Carmel program also have been forced to deal with losses away from football.
Last November, the father of then-junior Greyhounds running back Shakir Paschall had a medical incident during the third quarter of a 28-13 semistate triumph against visiting Penn and died after being taken to the hospital.
This season, the father of junior running back Stephen Watts died in an automobile accident.
“The strength of our team is just its mentality. It’s a very tight-knit group,” Wright said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity where they’ve had to bond.”
Center Grove has not fared well on its own artificial turf against Carmel, dropping the past five games at home by a total tally of 159-95. A 42-10 defeat of the Greyhounds in 2002 was the most recent time the Trojans sampled success in their own stadium against their Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rival.
Seniors on this season’s Center Grove roster were just starting kindergarten.
If Moore’s program is to reverse the trend, the Trojans’ wing-T offense must be able to move the chains in ways other than just running the football.
“Our running game was better last week, but we have to get better with our vertical passing game,” said Moore, whose squad was penalized 11 times for 105 yards in sweating out a 14-13 win at Class 5A No. 5 Whiteland.
“I want to see continued growth from our team. We’ve got to cut down on our mental mistakes, play physical and play with passion. Last week we were able to come back and win a close game, and I think some of our seniors stood up and became leaders. It gave us a point to build from.”
Center Grove senior back Max Norris rushed for 113 yards and two scores against Whiteland.
He’ll no doubt be a marked man tonight after torching Carmel a year ago for 220 yards rushing on only eight carries with touchdown runs covering 99 and 94 yards.
Both the Greyhounds and Trojans have played two low-scoring games so far. Wright, for one, wouldn’t be surprised if tonight’s plays out in a similar manner.
“Center Grove is like us. They have a system that works, and they reload,” Wright said. “They play great defense, and that gives them a chance. I’m not sure we’ll play a better defensive front all season.”
Senior linebacker Adam Lutring is the Trojans’ leader in tackles through two games with 12.5. Senior end Gavin Everett, junior linebacker Jackson Sodrel and sophomore end Cameron Tidd have 10 apiece.
Zach Hart, a senior defensive back, leads Center Grove in passes broken up with four to go along with his five tackles.