Center Grove and Carroll (Fort Wayne) will meet on the football field for the first time in Friday night’s Class 6A state championship at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“They’re the benchmark,” said Carroll coach Doug Dinan of Center Grove, who will attempt to become the first Class 6A program to win three straight state championships. “That’s why we reached out to some of those schools next year to reproduce those reference programs.”
For fans of Indianapolis-area 6A programs, Friday’s game could be an introduction to a Carroll program that had not previously advanced beyond the regional round. But that’s changing, starting next year. Carroll’s conference, the Summit Athletic Conference, is splitting into two five-team divisions, which will allow those Fort Wayne schools to face two non-conference opponents.
Indiana High School Football:What you need to know for this weekend’s state finals
Carroll, Dinan said, will begin a four-year contract with Center Grove beginning in 2024. Those schools will play in Week 2. Carroll will play Hamilton Southeastern, who they defeated 21-15 in last week’s semifinal, and Warren Central in 2023.
“I think it’s huge,” Dinan said of the importance of the scheduling shift. “We have a good conference with good football teams, great coaches and great guys. But stay in Fort Wayne and don’t compare to the best in the state. So being able to split our conference into parts and being able to pick up some non-conference games is going to be very beneficial to our growth. We are excited about this.
Center Grove, in its first year as an independent after dropping out of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, also needs opponents in future schedules, so the matchup makes sense. Regarding Friday’s game in particular, Eric Moore said he sees an opponent similar to the best played by the Trojans.
“They’re fast, very athletic and their secondary is as good as I’ve seen,” said Moore. “They are very well trained and their attack is multifaceted. Not all of them provide all of this and have a great kicking game. And I know they are emotionally driven by the loss of a young person in their program.
Owen Scheele died in June after a brief battle with chronic myeloid leukemia. Scheele, who wore jersey number 13, would be a senior quarterback at Carroll this season. Playing for Scheele’s memory has been a rallying point for Carroll this season.
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“He brought the community together, whether it was teammates or people outside the program,” said Dinan, who was visibly moved to talk about Scheele. “All actions were for him and in honor of him. He wore number 13 and our children always talk about it. We are 13-0 and those numbers are special to us. He was a great competitor. He was supposed to be our quarterback. He was a tremendously gifted player who threw the ball very well. We were excited about his future and where he would take us. He was so fast and so tragic. It’s still even hard to accept right now.
Here’s a closer look at the Class 6A title game:
Carroll (13-0) vs. Center Grove (11-2)
Carroll No. 5; Grove Center No. 4
7:00 PM Friday, Lucas Oil Stadium
How to watch
Bally Sports Indiana Extra and IHSAAtv.org
Carroll is playing in his first state soccer championship. The Chargers have five state titles in school history with two in baseball (2010 and ’11), two in women’s cross country (2018 and ’19), and one in men’s cross country (2016).
Center Grove has four state championships in football, winning 5A in 2008 and 6A in 2015, 2020 and 2021. Center Grove has 19 state championships in all sports with up to seven in softball.
Doug Dinan, 56, is 13th season at Carroll with a 103-45 record. He coached 17 seasons at Fort Wayne Snider as an assistant before coming to Carroll. Dinan is originally from Zanesville, Ohio and is a graduate of Ohio State. His father was a high school basketball coach in Ohio.
Eric Moore, 61, is in his 24th season at Center Grove with a 235-74 record and four state championships. Moore, a 1979 Edgewood graduate and 1984 Indiana University graduate, coached as an assistant coach at Punta Gorda, Florida, then as the head coach at Charlotte High School in Florida before coming to Center Grove in 1999.
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A closer look at Carroll
Carroll is one of two teams making its state finals debut, along with Whiteland in 5A. The Chargers had never won a regional before this season, but rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to defeat Lafayette Jeff to win the regional championship. Carroll knocked out No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern 21-15 at home last week in the semifinals.
Carroll is led offensively by sophomore quarterback Jimmy Sullivan, who is completing 65.5% of his passes for 2,203 yards and 27 touchdowns. The Chargers are balanced at the receiver position with seniors Camden Herschberger (57 receptions, 737 yards, seven touchdowns) and Jayden Hill (33 receptions, 472 yards, four touchdowns) and junior Hansen Haffner (37 receptions, 479 yards, 10 touchdowns ). Nate Starks, a sophomore running back, has 1,127 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs and junior Braden Steely has 482 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs.
Carroll’s defense, which allows just 9.8 points per game, is led by junior lineman Ashton Pesetski (86 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, three interceptions), senior linebacker Maxton Wiard (62 tackles, nine for loss ) and senior defenseman Jorge Valdes (52 tackles, five sacks).
A closer look at Center Grove
Center Grove is making its fourth straight state finals appearance and going for its third consecutive championship. This is the Trojans’ sixth title game in eight seasons. Center Grove averages 35.7 points per game, which ranks fifth in 6A. The Trojans are looking to win their 15th straight tournament game dating back to the 2019 state championship.
Center Grove is led on offense by seniors Micah Coyle (1,941 rushing yards, 21 TDs) and Jalen Thomeson (954 yards, nine TDs) at running back and junior quarterback Tyler Cherry (2,154 passing yards, 21 TDs) and receiver junior Noah Coy (57 receptions, 1,081 yards, 13 touchdowns). Senior Eli Hohlt has 15 receptions for 227 yards and three TDs in 11 games.
On defense, the Trojans are led by junior linebacker Owen Bright (69 tackles, 11½ tackles for loss, 3½ sacks), senior safety Gage Rees (61½ tackles, two interceptions), and junior linebacker Kaden McConnell ( 52½ tackles, three forced fumbles), along with junior linemen Elijah Chandler (46 tackles, five sacks) and Nate Johnson (39½ tackles, 5½ sacks). Elder Nolan Foley is also one of the best in the state in his position.
How Carroll can win
Stop the ride, or at least slow it down. The Trojans have ramped up their ground offense over the past three weeks, including 302 yards on the ground last week in a 33-10 win over Cathedral. Stopping the run has been an area of strength for Carroll, who is allowing just 98.4 yards per game on the ground. Keeping Center Grove under 500 feet above ground would be ideal. On offense, don’t spin the ball. Carroll has just 13 turnovers in 13 games, none in the last two weeks.
How can Center Grove win
Start well. It’s not necessarily imperative for this side to win, as last week’s 10-0 deficit against Cathedral proved. But you have to wonder what Carroll’s mindset will be if he trails off early against one defending state champion after another. That might look daunting under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium for a first-time team. This game will be more conducive to Center Grove’s passing game than the semi-state’s cold and snow. But if Coyle and Thomeson can make it on the field, the Trojans will be tough to beat. Coyle is averaging 187 yards on the ground in his last eight games.
Center Grove 31, Carroll 21
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.