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State football champions crowned at Lucas Oil Stadium

Sunday, November 30, 2008

(Photo)
Center Grove's Anthony Elias carries the championship trophy after defeating Carmel 36-33 in the IHSAA Class 5A Championship Football game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008.
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- It wasn't desperation, just incredible determination by Center Grove's top-ranked Trojans.

A 5-yard run by Luke Swift capped a flurry of three touchdowns in the final 6 minutes Saturday night as Center Grove completed the biggest comeback in the 36-year history of the Indiana high school football tournament and beat defending champion Carmel 36-33 for the Class 5A title.

"You've just got to keep your head up. That's what we did," said Center Grove quarterback Jordan Luallen, whose 2-point conversion pass to Swift finished the Trojans' comeback from a 33-14 deficit midway through the final quarter.

"We got down on ourselves, discouraged, in the first half, but ultimately we fought back," Luallen said.

Luallen scored first on a 5-yard run, then Center Grove recovered an onside kick and scored again on a 2-yard pass from Luallen to Michael Wood nine plays later. After another successful onside kick, Center Grove moved another 58 yards in nine plays for the winning touchdown by Swift, who also received the Indiana High School Athletic Association 5A Eskew Award for mental attitude.

"I love my boys. They played with great character and valor tonight. They never said die," Center Grove coach Eric Moore said.

"Were we bad for a while! But when we got good, we were good. ... We spread out. Sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do.

"We were letting them push and shove. We just didn't get physical," he said of the Trojans' early play. "Finally, we got a little bit physical, and I thought our conditioning was awesome. We just got people in the open field, and some guys who don't usually make plays had to stand up in a game like this."

The announced crowd of 40,680 in the new Lucas Oil Stadium broke the former record of 38,478 set last year in the RCA Dome, and the two-day total of 56,050 topped the former record of 51,217 set a year ago.

The miraculous comeback by Center Grove (14-1) spoiled a dominant effort by Carmel (13-2) through most of the game and overshadowed the play of Greyhounds quarterback Morgan Newton, who rushed for 211 yards and two touchdowns and passed for a third score.

"It's all part of football, I guess," Newton said. "All losses are tough, but that was a tough way to lose."

Carmel, seeking its second straight championship and seventh overall, appeared to take control with big plays from their big-time players, including touchdown runs of 54 and 14 yards by Newton and a 19-yard TD run by Nick Logan during a third-quarter scoring flurry that seemed to put the game out of reach. Two touchdowns in a span of just over 3 minutes gave Carmel its 33-14 lead, and Center Grove couldn't respond until the final minutes.

"We had the game won and obviously couldn't finish it. We couldn't get them stopped at the end," Carmel coach Mo Moriarity said. "And we've got to field the onside kick. We worked on that every week. That's our 'hands' team.

"They made plays at the end, and we didn't. That's the way it came out. Our kids played hard; our kids always play hard," he said.

Luallen, a Georgia Tech recruit, passed for 167 yards and rushed for two touchdowns, including the 5-yard score with 6:04 left that started the comeback.

When the two Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rivals played in September, the Greyhounds won 33-32 on Logan's 8-yard TD run after a fumble by Newton. This time, Newton, a Kentucky recruit, had a hand in all three Carmel touchdowns in the first half, starting with three straight pass completions and runs of 25 and 14 yards that took the Greyhounds to the Center Grove 18 on their first possession. Three plays later, he passed 11 yards to Troy Stratford and then 8 yards to Eric Ardaiolo for the first touchdown.

Center Grove wasted no time retaliating, though.

Luallen found an open Tanner Riley, who made a fingertips catch for 49 yards, and six plays later Luallen ran in from the 2 for the tying touchdown late in the first quarter.

Carmel started to break the game open, however, after runs of 20 yards by Kurt Freytag and 19 and 16 yards by Newton took it to the Trojans' 1, where Freytag ran in for the score on the second play of the second quarter. Newton added another touchdown midway through the period on his 54-yard run.

The Greyhounds had one more chance that quarter, but Kevin Jones intercepted a pass by Newton at the Greyhounds' 33. Swift then ran twice for 10 yards and Riley carried the final 23 yards for the touchdown with 1:16 remaining, pulling Center Grove within 21-14 at the break.

Newton rushed for 51 yards on Carmel's first drive starting the third quarter, finishing with runs of 11 and 14 yards for another touchdown and a 27-14 lead. It took just five plays and a little more than a minute to score again after a Center Grove punt, with Logan's 19-yard run pushing the lead to 19.

It was all Center Grove after that, though, and after the three frantic touchdowns by Center Grove, a final desperation pass by Newton fell incomplete as the game ended.

and we didn't. That's the way it came out. Our kids played hard; our kids always play hard," he said.

Luallen, a Georgia Tech recruit, passed for 167 yards and rushed for two touchdowns, including the 5-yard score with 6:04 left that started the comeback.

*

Class 4A State Finals

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was just like old times for Indianapolis Cathedral and coach Rick Streiff.

Nick Najem had 89 yards rushing and scored the winning touchdown early in the third quarter as fourth-ranked Cathedral beat No. 2 Fort Wayne Dwenger 10-7 in the Indiana high school Class 4A state championship on Saturday.

It was a familiar ending for Streiff, who won a 3A title at Cathedral in 1992 and 4A titles in 1996, 1998 and 1999. He left the Irish after the 2002 season, spent three years at Indianapolis North Central, took a two-year hiatus from coaching and returned to Cathedral this season.

"The first championship for me was a big deal because it's every coach's goal," Streiff said. "Now, I just look at the kids and I'm so happy for them."

Streiff knew his fifth state title and Cathedral's seventh overall wouldn't come easy. The Irish lost to Dwenger in the 3A final in 1991, the only other championship meeting between the schools.

"When you put two Catholic schools out there that are pretty good, you're going to get a game like this," he said. "We knew it would be a dogfight."

The Saints were seeking their fourth overall state title and first in 4A.

*

Class 3A State Finals

By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bellmont can finally appreciate its accomplishments.

Until this year, the Class 3A school about 25 miles south of Fort Wayne had not won so much as a football sectional, but Nick Hall ran for three touchdowns and caught a 61-yard pass for another score and the Braves beat Evansville Memorial 28-14 Saturday for their first state championship.

"Our kids, our coaches, we haven't had time to celebrate," Bellmont coach Toney Bergman said. "First coming off the sectionals, then the regional and the semistate, we didn't celebrate. We just had to win one more game and we kept to the grindstone. Now we can sit back and really think about what we've done."

The Braves (14-1) led only 14-7 after an 18-yard TD reception by Bryce Lueken for Memorial (12-3) on the opening drive of the second half. But Bellmont regained a two-touchdown lead in just three plays, capped by the long pass from Joel Bone to Hall for only the third TD catch all season by the run-oriented Braves.

The next Bellmont drive went 63 yards in 10 plays, all on the ground, and a 27-yard run by Trent Busse set up a clinching 1-yard run by Hall for a 28-7 lead.

"We were concerned with Memorial's ability to run and pass and what they've done through the tournament," Bergman said. "But our defense was outstanding. ... I'm really proud of our defense. I thought they did a nice job all year long."

*

Class 2A State Finals

By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Heritage Christian let its speed overcome a huge size disadvantage.

Jackson Kirtley threw third-quarter touchdown passes to Austin Olvey and Morgan Cook on Friday night, and the Eagles beat Cass 17-14 for their first Indiana high school Class 2A football championship.

"Given the size Cass puts on the field -- they outweigh us 65 pounds a man -- our speed had to do it for us," said Heritage Christian coach Ron Qualls, who learned in last year's championship-game loss to Fort Wayne Luers how important quickness can be.

"Last year's game was a speed game against Luers, but this year, Cass has tremendous size and is so physical. We knew we would have to play with discipline, and that's one thing our guys have, self-discipline," Qualls said.

Both of the touchdowns by Heritage Christian, a school on the near-northeast side of Indianapolis, were set up by long passes from Kirtley to Cook as the Eagles (14-1) finally took control.

A 31-yard pass to Cook set up an 8-yard TD pass to Olvey early in the third period. Then after Heritage Christian regained possession on downs minutes later, a 37-yard pass to Cook set up the 10-yard completion to Cook for a 17-7 lead. Kirtley was 18-of-27 for 218 yards for the game, while Cook finished with seven catches for 150 yards.

*

Class A State Finals

By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the most offensive games in the 36 years of the Indiana high school football playoffs came down to a measly 4-yard run.

Ross Hendrickson passed for 423 yards and three touchdowns and scored the winning TD on a 4-yard keeper with 40 seconds remaining, giving top-ranked and unbeaten Indianapolis Ritter a 34-27 victory over Sheridan for the Class A football championship on Friday.

The two teams combined for 899 yards total offense, and Ritter's 530 yards was a Class A record.

"My hat's off to our guys. They kept believing," Ritter coach Ty Hunt said. "I told them the ball was going to bounce our way, and it did.

"There at the end with that drive, I told Ross we were going to keep the ball in his hands and that we just had to get it done. Wow! I can't believe we're state champs," Hunt said.

Sheridan (13-2), trying for a record 10th championship, tied the game midway through the final period on an 8-yard run by Ty Perkins, and the Blackhawks had a chance to score again for the lead before Nick Zachery fumbled at the Ritter 25 with just over 5 minutes remaining. Hendrickson then drove the Raiders (15-0) to the Sheridan 18 and picked up a first down on a 14-yard, fourth-down run. Three plays later, he passed 9 yards to Glen Lee and then ran in on the next play for the touchdown.

"Both teams in the first half had to adjust to each other's speed," Sheridan coach Bud Wright said. "They were passing, and Ritter had to adjust to our running. Both teams got settled in the second half, and that's why there was less scoring."

For the game, Hendrickson was 29-of-47, and his 423 yards passing was a Class A record and just 16 yards short of the all-class record 439 by 2A's Jake Schiff of Evansville Mater Dei in 2001. Ritter's 530 yards total offense was 45 yards short of the all-class record 575 by 5A's Warren Central in 2003.

Zachery, trying to lead Sheridan to a record-tying fourth championship, rushed for 214 yards but twice lost the ball on fumbles. His first fumble didn't hurt the Blackhawks -- he intercepted a pass by Hendrickson two plays later to set up the tying touchdown by Perkins -- but the second fumble set up Ritter's winning drive.

"We kept trading touchdowns," Zachery said. "We knew it would be a fight to the end.

"We had two opportunities there at the end to go ahead, but they ended with fumbles," he said. "But we win as a team and lose as a team. ... We lost this won, but if we look back, we had a lot of wins and state championships."



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