The Columbus North football team has played 10 games this season, but make no mistake about it, Friday night’s matchup against Center Grove is the one the Bull Dogs have been anticipating.
The Trojans have knocked North out in the sectional four of the past five years. That included last season, when Center Grove won 34-7 on its way to the Class 6A state championship.
“The Center Grove Trojans are a source of motivation for us on a year-round basis because they’ve had our number,” North coach Tim Bless said. “We have complete respect for their program and everything they’ve accomplished. They’re the champs until someone says otherwise, and we’re anxious to get that opportunity.”
The Bull Dogs had an opportunity in the first-round last season. The teams were tied 7-7 at halftime, but Center Grove scored three touchdowns in a 6-minute, 16-second span of the third quarter to pull away.
Trojans coach Eric Moore thinks the bye week before the first round of the Class 6A sectional has hurt his team the past two years. Still, they routed Jeffersonville 62-6 on Friday.
“I wouldn’t say we’re clicking right now,” Moore said. “We beat Cathedral (to close the regular season) and went into that bye week, and I think it caused us to be a little flat. We were on a two-week break, and I don’t know if we handled it right. I don’t know if we got done what we needed to get done in preparation for Jeffersonville and Columbus North.”
The Class 6A No. 6 Bull Dogs (9-1) tuned up for 6A No. 3 Center Grove (9-1) with a 52-6 rout of New Albany. Like the Trojans did against Jeffersonville, North played its starters for only about a half.
Miami (Ohio) recruit Mitchell Burton ran for 154 yards and four touchdowns, and Triston Perry threw for 165 yards and a score in that first half for the Bull Dogs. Burton ranks second on North’s all-time rushing list with 3,869 yards, while Perry is tied with Kyle Kamman for second on the all-time passing list with 3,940 yards.
“They have an outstanding running game,” Moore said. “They have an outstanding tackle (David Redding), and Burton is a great running back. They provide a real dual threat with his ability to run the ball and then their ability to throw the ball around everywhere.”
Center Grove has a potent running game as well. Wingback Russ Yeast, a transfer from Fremont (Ohio) Ross who recently committed to Louisville, has 1,069 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns and 20 catches for 367 yards and three scores.
The Trojans had a Mr. Football candidate going into the season in Indiana State recruit Titus McCoy. But McCoy, who ran for 1,912 yards and 28 touchdowns last year, has been slowed by an ankle injury and has carried only 46 times for 231 yards and six scores.
McCoy was injured in Center Grove’s season-opening loss to Warren Central and didn’t fully return until Week 6. He then was diagnosed with compartment syndrome in his ankle and missed the final three regular-season games.
Friday, McCoy carried seven times for 83 yards in the blowout of Jeffersonville. Moore said he is not yet at full strength.
“The Warren Central game was crazy because Titus got hurt the first couple minutes of the game,” Moore said. “We had Russ doing a bunch of different things, and the next week, we simplified his package, and said ‘You’re going to do this.’ Now, he’s back to doing a lot of different things.”
The Trojans throw the ball less than 10 times a game. Jack Kellums has completed 54 of 94 passes for 798 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Leading a North defense that will try to slow down the Center Grove attack are linebacker Tucker Payne (86 tackles), safety Harley Huser (81 tackles, four interceptions), defensive tackle Coleman Tennyson (six sacks) and cornerback J.D. Harris (five interceptions).
“Their defense is big, physical and fast,” Moore said. “This is a really good defense. They’re a lot like the teams we’ve seen all year long. They’re very athletic on the outside on the edges. It’s going to be a real problem for us to move the football. They’re really sound, and their kicking game is good. It’s going to be a big test for us to win.”
The Trojans lost standout defensive tackles Jovan Swann (Stanford) and Cameron Tidd (Vanderbilt) to graduation, but remain one of the state’s top defenses. The unit is led by linebacker Bailey Bennett (78 tackles, two interceptions), defensive end Dan Root (4 1/2 sacks) and defensive back Corbin Laque (four interceptions).
“They don’t have the high-end recruits like they had last year, but statistically, they’re right where they’ve been in the past,” Bless said. “They play a very stingy brand of defense against both the run and the pass, but we feel good about what our offense has done all season.”
The Bull Dogs haven’t beaten Center Grove since a 23-7 victory in the 2007 sectional. The Trojans lead the all-time series 13-4.
If North can get past Center Grove, it likely would have to visit 6A No. 1 Warren Central.
“So many teams are capable of winning this whole deal, it’s what makes it crazy and fun,” Moore said. “The bummer about us and North is, you’re going to have to beat each other, then you’re going to have to beat Warren, then you’re going to have to beat Ben Davis. It’s a tough ride.”
Moore had high praise for the Bull Dogs.
“I think it’s a great high school, academics, sports,” Moore said. “It’s a lot like Center Grove. Columbus East and North are great high schools. All the sports do well. The coaching staff does a great job, and their kids work hard in the offseason. They’re a tough draw.”
Center Grove leads the all-time series with Columbus North 13-4. The scores:
1984;Center Grove 27-12
1987;Center Grove 17-14 (sectional)
1991;Center Grove 16-13
1993;Center Grove 12-7 (sectional)
1994;North 31-13 (sectional)
1995;Center Grove 28-0
1996;Center Grove 49-7
1997;Center Grove 48-0
1998;Center Grove 35-7 (sectional)
2002;Center Grove 35-0 (sectional)
2007;North 23-7 (sectional)
2011;Center Grove 38-24 (sectional)
2012;Center Grove 42-7 (sectional)
2014;Center Grove 54-7 (sectional)
2015;Center Grove 34-7 (sectional)