104 points. 1,166 yards. Nonstop fireworks. Center Grove showed it can win a track meet.

You ever seen a first half like that, Eric Moore?

“Nooooooo,” said Moore, the veteran Center Grove coach. “And I don’t want to be a part of it again.”

Weird. Wacky. Wild. The end result was a victory for Center Grove — a bizarre 63-41 homecoming bonanza full of fireworks — over visiting Lawrence Central. The teams combined for 12 touchdowns and 855 yards in the first half alone.

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At halftime, well, there was some yelling. And it came from the locker room of the team leading, 49-33. “A lot of that,” said Center Grove senior Jalen Thomeson, who plays both offense and defense. “But we got it right.”

There was plenty of good news for Class 6A second-ranked Center Grove, the back-to-back defending state champions. The Trojans finished with 649 yards of total offense and seemingly could run with Micah Coyle (286 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries) or Thomeson (165 yards and a touchdown) at will. And if Center Grove wanted to go to the air, Tyler Cherry (11-for-13 for 204 yards and three touchdowns) and Noah Coy (seven receptions for 134 yards and two TDs) could do that, too.

Center Grove (5-1) had the ball eight times in the first half. Seven of those possessions ended in touchdowns.

“The game just got weird on us,” Moore said. “I’m proud that we stuck in there and fought back and came back in the second half and played better on defense. We did what we needed to do on offense — bottom line.”

There were four touchdowns scored in the final 1:56 of the first half, the end of a wild second quarter that featured a combined 47 points. A 40-yard touchdown pass from Cherry to Coy put Center Grove ahead 49-27 with 29.3 seconds left in the half. But the Bears (3-3) needed all of three plays to get in the end zone, cutting the lead to 49-33 on a 3-yard pass from Bryson Luter to Princeton Davis with 2.7 seconds left before half.

It was a much different game than any of the previous three between the teams with Center Grove outscoring the Bears by a combined 135-0 from 2019-21. Scoring was not the problem for Lawrence Central, which racked up 517 yards of total offense, including eight catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns receptions by Ahmaad Duff from Luter.

Stopping the Trojans was another story.

Micah Coyle (12) and Luke McDaniel (54) after Coyle’s touchdown Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at Ray Skillman Stadium in Greenwood.
Micah Coyle (12) and Luke McDaniel (54) after Coyle’s touchdown Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at Ray Skillman Stadium in Greenwood.

“I was surprised, honestly,” Lawrence Central coach Will Patterson said of his team’s struggle on defense. “I thought we’d give a little bit better effort to it. I thought we’d respond a little bit better out of the gate. When you play championship teams, you have to come out swinging. You don’t have time to get a feel for it, you have to come out and be the aggressor. A few games we grasped that concept, but playing the defending champions, it’s a different level of intensity you have to get to.”

The third quarter was almost the exact opposite of the first half. After a long Lawrence Central possession was halted at the Center Grove 7, the Trojans marched 69 yards in 14 plays and took more than seven minutes off the clock before an interception by Desean Mack ended the threat. Neither team scored a point in the third quarter.

The Bears could never reel the game to within a one-score margin. Luter left the game — Patterson said the junior quarterback was “dinged up” but likely will play next week — and freshman Terry Walker III brought the Bears to within 56-41 on a 13-yard pass to Jacob Franklin with 4:37 left. But after a failed onside kick, Coyle raced 50 yards on the next play to give the Trojans a 63-41 lead and put the game out of reach.

“They have tremendous athletes,” Moore said of Lawrence Central. “We knew it. Guys were in places to make plays and that’s part of life. That’s high school football. It doesn’t take many great dudes on the field to start a track meet and that’s what we started. We’ll learn a lot. I was just hoping somebody was going to get tired. We were running up and down the field too, though.”

Center Grove is on the road at Pike and Lawrence North the next two weeks before closing the regular season at home against Cathedral. Lawrence Central hosts winless North Central next week before likely getting a shot to win the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference the following week at Ben Davis.

The Trojans are fighting some injuries and saw receiver Eli Hohlt, who caught a 38-yard touchdown pass in the first half, and starting defensive back Gavin Oakes leave the game Friday. It is not exactly breaking news that Center Grove lost a lot of talent from the previous two state championship teams. But this is normally the time of year when Center Grove starts putting it all together. It looked like it on Friday — at least on one side of the ball.

“We work hard,” Thomeson said. “We feel like we work harder than any team out there. The second half, on defense, we got some stops. The first half wasn’t so nice. But we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We weren’t going to quit first.”

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IHSAA football: Center Grove wins 63-41 shootout over Lawrence Central