GREENWOOD — The circle of white-jerseyed football players extended from the 30- to 45-yard lines at the south end of Center Grove’s football field.
Some wiped away tears. Others stared straight down at the green artificial surface or stared blankly into the cold night air.
Finally, Columbus North football coach Tim Bless broke Friday night’s postgame silence with his words.
“It’s the toughest night of the year,” said Bless following the Bull Dogs’ 42-7 loss to the sixth-ranked Trojans in the championship game of Class 5A’s Sectional 7. “The highs in this game are incredibly high, and the lows are incredibly low. Every team you coach is unique.”
After piecing together a five-game winning streak following a 1-5 start to the season, the Bull Dogs came into Friday’s action with plenty of momentum. Bless attempted to keep it that way by attempting an onside kick to start the game, but the move backfired.
Senior Joe Gedeon’s abbreviated boot was plucked out of the air by Trojans special team player Drew Wozniak, who proceeded to secure the football and race 51 yards for a touchdown.
Only nine seconds into the game, the tone had been established.
“We decided to roll the dice and try to steal a possession or two,” said Bless a short time after consoling each and every one of his players with a hug and words of encouragement. “Center Grove’s team is incredible, and they had one heck of a first quarter.”
“We teach our kids to keep your eye on the ball and to be an athlete,” said 14th-year Center Grove coach Eric Moore following what is the eighth sectional title in school history and seventh since Moore took over. “Drew did a good job of keeping his feet active and ran it down there.”
Using three first-half touchdown passes from junior quarterback Luke Calvert, Center Grove (11-1) jumped out to a 35-0 lead against the Bull Dogs. By night’s end, Calvert made good on 7 of 11 passes for 119 yards, while junior back Alex Lucas led all ball carriers with 153 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Also playing a starring role was the Trojans’ defense, which limited Columbus North to 207 total yards on 61 offensive plays.
“I thought our defense played lights-out, especially in that first half,” Moore said. “Everything we did seemed to work.”
Following Wozniak’s return, the hosts didn’t let up.
Center Grove, on the strength of a pair of Calvert-to-Kyle Buchanan scoring connections, led 21-0 after one period before padding the margin with touchdowns from Lucas and junior fullback Lane Morris in the second for a 35-0 halftime cushion.
The Bull Dogs got on the board late when quarterback Michael Vogel snuck in from the 1. Vogel, a junior, will return next season. Some of his teammates won’t, and they were forced to grasp the finality of the moment.
“We had a lot of confidence coming in,” said senior tailback Jesse Tompkins, the Bull Dogs’ leading ball carrier with 20 carries for 69 yards. “We knew if we stopped the run that you could stop Center Grove. But tonight we came up short.”