Senior staff writer
The 2016 football season was not supposed to end like this for the Center Grove faithful.
Expectations were as high as the Lucas Oil Stadium roof when the Trojans faced rival No. 6 Carmel for the 6A state championship Friday. The Trojans entered the game with 12 straight wins and nine consecutive playoff victories. Center Grove owned a 19-6 regular- season triumph over the Greyhounds, and the Trojans had bumped off three top-six teams in a row to reach the title game.
But Center Grove’s hopes of scoring back-to-back state championships dramatically ended on Conner Coghlan’s 27-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Greyhounds to a 16-13 victory.
‘We had a huge target on our back when the season started (because) we were the undefeated state champions,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “We lost our first game (Warren Central). We had to refocus, figure out how to drive our car better and use No. 3 (Yeast). You can’t take our 12-game winning streak away and making it back here again.”
The Trojans were held scoreless in the second half until sophomore Luke Eckert calmly hit a 6A state final record 50-yard field goal just after his first successful try was negated by a Carmel time out to push the game into overtime. On the Trojans’ first play, Titus McCoy ran 9 yards to the 1-yard line but left the game with a re-injured ankle.
On the next play, Russell Yeast took the handoff from quarterback Jack Kellams, leaped and had the ball knocked from his hands before he could reach the goal line. Carmel recovered the ball in the end zone to set up the game-winning field goal for the Greyhounds’ eighth state championship.
“We had great effort; we just came up a little short,” Moore said. “I love these kids and I’m very proud of them.”
Defensively, the Trojans played well enough to win. They recovered four Carmel fumbles and intercepted two passes. The offense cashed in on two of Carmel’s first three fumbles for a 10-3 halftime lead.
Senior linebacker Bailey Bennett forced the first fumble at midfield, which was recovered and returned 21 yards to the Carmel by junior Brent Boswell. Nine plays and 25 yards later, Eckert connected on a 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Late in the second quarter, senior Corbin Laque forced a fumble that was recovered by classmate Logan Bontrager on the Carmel 25. Senior Russell Yeast ran three times for 20 yards in the short drive capped by Titus McCoy’s 1-yard TD. The Trojans led 10-0 with 1:40 left in the half, which ended with a 42-yard Carmel field goal.
In the second half the Trojans forced three more turnovers that ended with drives of three plays (fumble), six plays (punt) and three plays (punt). The Trojans gained only 87 yards on 24 plays in the second half while the Greyhounds dominated the clock 15 minutes, 24 seconds, to 8:36. Carmel gained 239 yards on 40 plays, including the Jerome Halsell’s 11-yard game-tying touchdown.
“We weren’t as sharp offensively and we may have hit a wall a little bit,” Moore said. “It’s hard to beat teams twice.”
Linebacker Nick Arbuckle led the Trojans with 12 tackles and Dan Root eight, Bennett seven, Seth Ferrando six, Laque and Sam Bolin, five each, and Bontrager, Tyler Watson and Lucas Hunter, four each.
McCoy led Trojan runners with 86 yards on 20 carries. Yeast gained 64 yards on 14 carries and caught five passes for 49 yards. Kellams completed 9-of-16 passes for73 yards. Punter P.J. Buck set two 6A records by averaging 42 yards on his six punts and a booming one that went 66 yards.