If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times: Football is a game of inches.
No measuring device can accurately gauge the heartbreak Center Grove players felt following Friday night’s 12-7 semistate loss at Warren Central or how long they’ll carry it with them into the off-season.
What’s known is the obvious: The Trojans’ dream season is over.
The host Warriors accomplished what few figured they could, holding Center Grove’s high-powered wing-T offense in check for four quarters straight. The Trojans’ 36 carries netted 61 yards; quarterback Luke Calvert did complete 17 of 26 pass attempts for 129 yards and his team’s lone score.
“We had no execution on offense,” said 15th-year Trojans coach Eric Moore, whose program has now bowed out of tournament play at semistate three consecutive seasons. “(Warren Central) is so quick. Sometimes you coach this game and you have great teams ... one of the worst offensive games of the year. They beat us.”
The Trojans’ defense performed admirably in defeat, limiting Warren Central to 184 total yards, a touchdown and two Max Hernandez field goals.
But it’s three second-half offensive sequences by Center Grove that promise to provide Moore and his assistant coaches more than a few sleepless nights:
Trailing 9-7 early in the third period, the Trojans faced fourth-and-inches from their own 47 when WC’s defense clogged the middle and stuffed fullback Lane Morris for a 1-yard loss.
At 10:33 of the fourth, Calvert threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the Warriors’ 6, erasing any chance for the go-ahead touchdown.
With 3:33 remaining and Warren Central attempting to milk the clock, a botched handoff between quarterback Jeff George and tailback Tirone Young was smothered by Center Grove senior lineman John Dever at the Trojans’ 42.
Center Grove had advanced the football to the WC 42 when Calvert’s pass over the middle to Morris on fourth-and-4 gained only three yards.
The Warriors (9-3) took over the football at 1:14 and ran out the clock to punch their ticket for the 6A state championship game against Carmel the night of Nov. 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Warren Central players and coaches celebrated near midfield. Some stunned Trojans players walked slowly toward the locker room in disbelief; others were consoled by family members or knelt down for a brief staredown with the artificial surface.
“This isn’t the worst thing to ever happen in their lives. Being so close so many times it just kills you. As a coach and as a man,” Moore said. “Bottom line is we didn’t make plays.”
Moore admitted afterward that he figured one huge play on offense would not only give his team the lead, but maybe eventually break the game open.
It never happened. Every time wingback Max Norris (17 carries, 32 yards) attempted to utilize his sprinter’s speed wide, one, two or even three gray shirts were there to prevent him from turning the corner.
“They’re a good team. Good reads and they took it away,” Moore said.
The Warren Central defense limited the Trojans to only 84 yards of offense in the first half to hold a 9-7 lead.
Center Grove had difficulty getting untracked at the outset, going three and out on two of its first three series. The Warriors, meanwhile, marched 36 yards on its first possession to set up a 46-yard field goal by Hernandez at 6:07 of the first period.
The home team’s second series began at its own 44 and required nine plays to find the end zone. Young’s 2-yard touchdown run not even a minute into the second put Warren Central in command, 9-0.
It wasn’t until Center Grove’s fifth crack at it that the Trojans were finally able to put points on the board.
After a 17-yard Warriors punt put the Trojans in business at the Warren Central 48, Center Grove covered the necessary territory in 10 plays. Calvert on third-and-goal from the five hit Hensley over the middle at the 1:00 mark of the second quarter.
Hensley, who like Norris is a junior, finished with six receptions for 61 yards.