GREENWOOD, Ind. — When Titus McCoy was injured in the first game of the season in a loss to Warren Central, Center Grove coach Eric Moore pointed to tournament time.
Moore knew, even at that point, that he’d need a healthy McCoy to beat Warren Central in a potential rematch. Getting him there was more difficult than Moore anticipated. In addition to the senior running back’s injured ankle, McCoy suffered another leg injury in a midseason game against Pike.
“There’s been days he didn’t like me,” Moore said. “We tried to be patient and keep him from action. We wanted him to be ready to go. All the way, go.”
McCoy and his Center Grove teammates were ready on Friday night. More than ready. The defending state champion and third-ranked Trojans flattened the visiting Class 6A No. 1 Warren Central 28-7 in the regional with a dominating second-half performance. Warren Central is ranked No. 20 in the Super 25.
Center Grove (11-1) will play at Ben Davis (9-3) in a semistate game next week with a berth in the state finals at Lucas Oil Stadium on the line.
McCoy carried 21 times for 83 yards and two touchdowns, forming a dangerous backfield combination with Russ Yeast (13 carries for 97 yards) and Trevor Hohlt (11 carries for 43 yards). McCoy rushed for three touchdowns, two in the second half against Warren Central’s tiring defense.
“I love playing this game and love playing for this team,” McCoy said. “Every game (Moore) would hold me out a little bit and make me more eager to come back. When he gave me the full-go this week, it just felt great to be back.”
Warren Central scored the first touchdown of the game midway through the second quarter when Zach Summeier threw over the top for a 42-yard touchdown pass to David Bell.
Center Grove evened the score with a 13-play, 60-yard drive. The Trojans converted four third-down chances along the way, which was capped by McCoy’s 10-yard TD run with 1:30 left in the first half.
“That’s how our offense runs,” Moore said of the long drive. “We’ve been lucky to have some games where we’ve thrown it over people’s heads but that’s really not us.”
Center Grove took that momentum and ran with it. After a long kickoff return by Mikala Gardner to start the second half, Jack Kellams hit Yeast four plays later for a 29-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-7.
Warren Central’s offense sputtered all second half, unable to pick up a first down until it trailed 28-7. Summeier, who had been unable to practice during the week due to back spasms, was eventually lifted in favor of Tristen Tonte, the starting running back. The Warriors, averaging 41.2 points a game coming in, accounted for just 72 yards of total offense in the second half.
Center Grove linebacker Bailey Bennett made seven tackles and several other big hits that didn’t show up on the stat sheet. The big-play Warriors didn’t have a run of more than 10 yards until late in the fourth quarter and didn’t have a pass play of more than 20 yards other than the touchdown catch by Bell.
“We have two great (defensive coaches) in coach (Chad) Daniels and coach (Brian) Harbin,” Bennett said. “Really our whole defensive coaching staff is amazing. They tell us what to do and we really just do it. We knew if we could stop the run they’d be one-dimensional with the pass. We did stop the run and we eventually stopped the pass, too.”
Summeier was 12-for-18 passing in the first half for 152 yards.
While it was a tough ending for his team, West was glad to see McCoy back on the field Friday night. It was early in the first meeting between the teams, a 21-16 Warren Central win way back in August, when McCoy left the field and didn’t return with a high ankle sprain.
It doesn’t appear he plans leaving the field again anytime soon.
“I’m glad he’s graduating,” West said of McCoy. “It seems like he’s been playing about eight or 10 years. But I wouldn’t have wanted to play this game without Titus. He was really good tonight.”