A storybook season concludes for Carroll on the biggest stage of them all – under the lights at Lucas Oil Stadium in primetime in the Class 6A state championship game.
Outside the Huddle will have you covered on all the happenings of the Chargers’ first-ever appearance in the state finals.
How does this matchup look? Let’s break it down.
1. ROOKIE vs. SEASONED VET
As already mentioned, Carroll is in uncharted territory. Having never advanced past the regional round in program history, the Chargers are appearing in their first-ever state title game.
Meanwhile, Center Grove is a regular. This is the fourth-consecutive season in which the Trojans have advanced to Lucas Oil Stadium, capturing the big trophy in each of the last two years.
Is the experience an advantage? Or is there something to be said about naivete entering the biggest game of these kids’ careers (so far)?
2. UNCHARTED TERRITORY
Not only is Carroll in its first state title game, it is the first time that a northeast Indiana school has made it to the biggest stage in Indiana prep football – the Class 6A championship.
A lot of people around the state, and in this area for that matter, scoffed at the suggestion that an area 6A team was ready for the rigorous challenges of advancing all the way to Lucas Oil in the biggest class. Yet Carroll has proven a lot of people wrong, Blitz included, in its ouster of the likes of Penn, Lafayette Jeff and Hamilton Southeastern to reach this moment.
Many will still doubt that the Chargers can keep up with the perennial power that is Center Grove. But can you doubt anything this team is doing right now?
3. STRENGTHS COLLIDE
This showdown pits two of the top five scoring offenses in Class 6A against one another. Over the course of a combined 26 games, Carroll and Center Grove have not been held under 14 points in a single contest.
The Trojans are balanced and average 463 yards of total offense per game.
Carroll is very similar – having a stellar passing game and an underrated rushing attack to the tune of 484 yards per contest.
Which defense is able to slow down the opponent? Could this be a scoring fest like we saw with Snider-New Palestine in 2015 with a combined 125 points?
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB MICAH COYLE, SENIOR, CENTER GROVE
The Trojans’ offensive success begins with its running game – with Micah Coyle the centerpiece. The senior has rushed for 1,941 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. Center Grove runs the ball 72 percent of the time, with Coyle and senior Jalen Thomeson (954 yards, nine TDs) a dangerous 1-2 punch out of the backfield.
If Coyle is able to churn yards on early downs, it sets up all types of possibilities for an offense with various other weapons.
QB JIMMY SULLIVAN, SOPHOMORE, CARROLL
Sullivan went from QB2 at Homestead to QB1 at Carroll in the preseason, now look at him, starting in the Class 6A title game.
While the 2,203 passing yards and 27 touchdowns are impressive, what has stood out the most about Sullivan is his poise and decision making. This is a 10th grader in his first year of starting at the high school level in which no moment has been too big for him. He has protected the football and made the right decisions. He must continue to do that on the brightest stage of them all on Friday night.
DL NATE JOHNSON, JUNIOR, CENTER GROVE
A two-sport stud on the football field and the wrestling mat, Johnson is arguably Center Grove’s most disruptive defender at the point of attack.
At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Johnson has the frame to take up space but also the quick feet to get up and go. He leads the Trojans in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (5.5) on the season.
Look for Johnson on the field sporting the amazing blonde mullet. It is in honor of his mother, who passed away due to cancer in 2020.
DL ASHTON PESETSKI, JUNIOR, CARROLL
Don’t be fooled by the No. 23 jersey, Pesetski is all lineman. An absolutely dynamic terror along the defensive front, the junior seems to thrive more when the challenge is magnified.
Expect Center Grove to put a lot of attention on Pesetski in its blocking schemes. The Trojans run 72 percent of the time and want to clear the line of scrimmage of Carroll defenders. The top overall defender is Pesetski, who leads the Chargers in tackles (86), TFL (21), sacks (11) and forced fumbles (three).
KEY TO VICTORY – CENTER GROVE
ESTABLISH THE RUN
The rushing average isn’t insane for Center Grove, but its 246 yards per game sets up everything it does.
When they are in the Wing-T, of which they line up in around 30 percent of the time, both Coyle and Thomeson are extremely dangerous. When the Trojans line up in a more pro-set shotgun, it opens up the field for the RBs as well as 2,000-yard passer Tyler Cherry and 1,000-yard receiver Noah Coy.
But here is the thing. Center Grove is deadly in both schemes and pass and run out of either. Carroll must be gap sound and ready for misdirection while also respecting the deep shots.
KEY TO VICTORY – CARROLL
What a season. From losing its most vibrant personality and QB1 Owen Scheele to cancer in June to now playing in its first-ever state title game, Carroll has been through it all over the past five or so months.
Not a lot of people thought this was possible, yet here we are.
The Chargers are all-in. They have already slain the No. 1 team in the state in Hamilton Southeastern. This squad isn’t going to be intimidated. It is not going to shy away from the immense challenge that is Center Grove.
Who would have thought 6A would still be relevant in northeast Indiana in late November?
Carroll has done it – burst through the glass ceiling that had held back area 6A programs for almost a decade.
As for the matchup, Center Grove is very balanced with a difficult scheme to prepare for. The Wing-T is no joke and to properly prepare for it in a regular week is difficult, much less a week with all the hype of a state championship game.
Carroll has the smaller margin for error here. But you could have said that about games at Penn and against HSE as well, yet the Chargers found a way.
They find a way again. There is only one way this can end, right? ‘For O’
BLITZ SAYS CARROLL BY 3.