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Trojans single step from berth in final

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The ninth regional championship in Center Grove football history also proved to be its first.

With a 56-14 stomping of No. 4 and previously undefeated Southport, the third-ranked Trojans made a little bit of history Friday night by recording the program’s initial Class 6A regional title.

Center Grove coach Eric Moore hopes there will be more in the future. For now, he’s savoring this.

“Our kids prepared hard for this game, and we’re real proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said Moore, who finds himself Final Four-bound for a third consecutive season after losing 5A semistates to eventual state champions Carmel (2011) and Lawrence Central (2012). “My kids played their butts off. Proud to be a Trojan.”

Junior Max Norris rushed for a game-high 123 yards in only 11 carries for a Center Grove offense that generated 323 yards on the ground and another 144 through the air.

There were 10 Trojan ball carriers, which proved to be in contrast to Southport, which rode the legs of senior tailback Christian Perry (23 for 66).

Sophomore QB Luke Johnston completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 245 yards and the Cardinals’ two scores, but he was also intercepted twice.

To say Southport players and fans were chomping at the bit for a shot to eliminate Center Grove in what was the programs’ first meeting since 1990 would be an understatement.

The visitors’ bleachers were nearly filled to capacity an hour prior to the 7 p.m. kickoff. First seen, approximately 900 Southport fans were then heard roaring their approval as Peebles’ squad trotted onto the field at 6:15 for pregame warmups.

Center Grove wasted no time

silencing them, withstanding Johnston’s 169 yards passing in the first half to take a 21-7 lead into the locker room.

The Trojans took the game’s opening kickoff and marched 69 yards in six plays for a quick 7-0 lead. Norris’s 41-yard run set up the junior’s 5-yarder into the end zone three plays later.

It became a 14-0 ballgame with 9:50 remaining in the second quarter when Logan Hutson’s 5-yard burst around the ride side capped a 10-play, 72-yard drive. Thirty-two of those yards came on a third-and-28 when senior QB Luke Calvert spotted junior split end Devon Hensley over the middle for a 32-yard pickup.

Southport’s points came on the ensuing series when Johnston and senior receiver Tim Jewell hooked up for a 35-yard touchdown. Jewell had six grabs for 127 yards in the first half alone.

Fullback Lane Morris plowed in from the 1 at 2:54 of the second for the two-TD advantage. Center Grove then dodged a bullet when following a Calvert interception the Cardinals made it all the way to the Trojans 4 when time expired.

Center Grove recovered its own pooch kick to start the second half at the Southport 22. Norris scored his second touchdown of the night three plays later, but the Cardinals responded with another Johnston-to-Jewell connection to make it 28-14.

The Trojans closed strong with four consecutive touchdowns as Hensley, Morris, split end Matt O’Brien and sophomore back Connor Steeb struck paydirt in the second half.

Awaiting Center Grove in next week’s semistate is none other than Warren Central, which by rallying to defeat Pike on Friday gets to host Moore’s team for the second time this season.

The Trojans opened their 2013 campaign there back on Aug. 23 with a 21-10 victory. What the Warriors get this time is a Center Grove outfit that in three postseason games has outscored the opposition, 161-28.

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