GREENWOOD, Ind. -- Two years ago, the Lawrence Central High School football team climbed aboard the back of Indianapolis Star Indiana Mr. Football Tre Roberson all the way to the program's first state finals appearance.
It was a neat, new story. But these aren't the cuddy, underdog Bears anymore. No, after Class 5A top-ranked Lawrence Central defeated sixth-ranked Center Grove 28-15 in the semistate Friday night, it's fair to say the program is right there with the state's other football powers.
"Maybe it's still a surprise outside of our locker room," said senior quarterback Drake Christen, "but we've known all along what we can do."
What can't the 14-0 Bears do? They are known as an explosive, big-play team. Rightly so. Christen's 53-yard touchdown run up the right sideline on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Bears a 28-9 lead and some much-needed momentum.
But this is also a team that can grind it out when it has to. Center Grove (12-2) cut the deficit to 28-15 on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Luke Calvert to Conner Stapleton with 10:32 left. But, starting from its own 11-yard line after a holding call, Lawrence Central held the ball for more than eight minutes. It was a 14-play drive that didn't results in any points, but left Center Grove just two minutes to work with.
It was big boy football.
"If we can't do that we're not in this position," said fifth-year Lawrence Central coach Jayson West, who will face Fort Wayne Snider in the 5A . "When you play these physical (Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) schools and can't grind, then you can't go. That's something we've worked on the last few years. We knew if we were going to beat these schools, you had to play their type of football and be successful at it."
Center Grove, attempting to rally from a 21-0 deficit, saw its comeback end when Mike Zinermon intercepted a deflected Luke Calvert pass at the Lawrence Central 4 with 56 seconds left.
The Trojans found some success with their wing-T offense, finishing with 317 yards of total offense. But Center Grove had trouble finishing drives and getting its defense off the field.
"They are a much better team in space than we are," Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. "And we knew that coming into it. I think two years ago, their quarterback was one of the best in the nation. But this is a good football team. Their offensive line is good, their defense is good, their receivers are awesome blockers. That's how you win it all."
Lawrence Central lost 38-19 to Fishers in the championship game two years ago. But that team laid the groundwork for what came next. That, more than anything, may be the true sign of a program's arrival.
"I learned a lot of (Roberson), watching him at practice every day," Christen said. "He was a leader on and off the field. He brought energy to that team and all those guys rallied around him."