The longer Columbus North hung around top-ranked Center Grove Friday night, the more confident the prohibitive underdogs became.
But in the blink of an eye, the Trojans showed why they are ranked in the top 10 in the country.
Center Grove scored three touchdowns in a span of 6 minutes, 16 seconds of the second half to break a 7-7 tie, and went on to hand the Bull Dogs a 34-7 loss in an opening-round Class 6A sectional contest.
“We came out with confidence,” North coach Tim Bless said. “We didn’t just want to show up, and you could tell by our level of intensity early on in the game. We stuck with them toe to toe and kind of ran out of depth, and they come at you in waves.”
The Bull Dogs (6-4) didn’t just match the Trojans (10-0) on the scoreboard in the first half; North outgained Center Grove 115-113 in the opening 24 minutes. The Trojans finished with only a 305-277 advantage in total yards and a 16-15 margin in first downs, but took advantage of three interceptions, two of which set up short scoring drives in the second half.
“Hopefully, we created them a little bit,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “When guys are getting pressure in their face, they do make mistakes, and that’s what happened. We turned the field.”
North’s defense kept it in the game the first 2½ quarters.
“All in all, I thought we played a great defensive game, but you can’t say that when you give up 34 points,” Bless said. “But they’re not the No. 1 team in the state and nationally ranked by accident.”
After the Trojans got on the board on a 13-yard pass from Joey Siderwicz to tight end Cory Heinrichs in the final minute of the first quarter, the Bull Dogs put together their only sustained drive of the night. They marched 54 yards in 14 plays, with Mitchell Burton going over from the 1 with 9:08 left in the first half.
That was the only time that North drive inside the Center Grove 40 until the final minute of the game.
“We didn’t beat ourselves (in the second half),” Moore said. “We didn’t make penalties, and we got a lot more physical. Like I tell them every game, ‘The only team that’s going to beat us is us,’ and we tried to beat ourselves that first half.”
The Bull Dogs limited the Trojans’ leading rusher, Titus McCoy, to 67 yards on 23 carries. But wingback Jackson Hohlt picked up 151 yards on 16 carries, mostly on sweeps.
Burton finished with 128 yards on 27 carries. Triston Perry completed 15 of 27 passes for 71 yards, with Wyatt Barkes catching seven passes for 41 yards.
“We had a great week of practice,” Bless said. “I thought our position coaches did a great job preparing our kids, and our kids put in the work.”
Center Grove advances to host Jeffersonville in Friday’s sectional final.
“Columbus North is a great program,” Moore said. “It’s too bad we have to play them, and they have to play us the first round. They deserve to be in the tournament for weeks to come, and I hate it for their kids.”