The second half has long been where Center Grove stepped on opponents’ throats and finished the job.
True to form, the Trojans had plenty of magic after the intermission on Friday night. Ben Davis, though, had just a little more.
The host Giants came out in the third quarter and took over what had been a nip-and-tuck battle in the first half, scoring three consecutive touchdowns after the intermission to seize control and then withstanding Center Grove’s own surge. They then got a late field goal to force overtime before pulling out what might have been the most exciting high school football I’ve ever seen, 37-34.
“In games like this… big players have got to make big plays,” Moore said. “I mean, (Tyler) Cherry made some big plays. (Noah) Coy made some big plays. We were making them right back and forth with them; it’s just they made one more better than we did there at the end.”
This hasn’t been the way it’s normally gone for Moore’s teams, either this year or in its recent history against the Giants.
Earlier this fall, the Trojans outscored Louisville Trinity 27-0 in the third quarter en route to a 34-7 win. In Week 8, they rallied from a halftime deficit against Lawrence North, outscoring the Wildcats 28-7 in the second half of a 43-26 triumph. They put away a 40-14 sectional semifinal win over Franklin Central by scoring all 21 second-half points, and all of the points in Center Grove’s 14-0 regional victory over Warren Central last week came in the third period.
Ben Davis has seen that second-half dominance up close before. In their 2021 semistate matchup, Center Grove led just 10-6 at halftime before pulling away for a 45-6 win. The previous year, the two teams were tied at the break before the Trojans again closed with 35 unanswered points to claim a 48-13 road triumph.
The Giants flipped that script on Friday, intercepting Center Grove quarterback Tyler Cherry less than a minute into the third quarter and taking the lead for good on an 11-yard halfback pass from Alijah Price to Zane Skibinski. After making consecutive defensive stops, Ben Davis tackled on two more long TD throws to build what felt like a pretty safe 28-10 cushion with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
Then, Center Grove made its own push, answering with three straight touchdowns of its own. A long catch and run by Brevin Holubar, followed by two scoring passes from Cherry to Coy, allowed the Trojans to take a 31-28 lead with 2:58 to go in regulation. An amazing comeback, to be sure — but one that left the Giants with a little too much time.
Another deep pass set up first and goal, and while the Trojans made a defensive stand, the home side was able to get the tying field goal out of it before winning the game with a touchdown pass on its first overtime series.
It was an instant classic, the kind of game that’s easy to appreciate even in the immediate aftermath of losing it. Of course Moore wanted to win and have a shot to claim a fourth consecutive state championship next week. But at the same time, he seemed content to be part of a game that’ll be talked about for years and years at both schools.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “You’ve got to say that — this was a lot of fun.”
Indeed it was.
Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].