BY DEAN HOCKNEY
INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time in school history, the boys athletic program at Tri-Central High School has a state championship after the Trojans captured the IHSAA Class 1A football title with a dominating 20-10 victory over No. 3 and previously undefeated Eastern Hancock. The Trojans scored the first 12 points and led 20-3 midway through the final stanza in a superior defensive effort.
“What can I say? What can I say?” asked TC coach George Gilbert after the game. “I am just thrilled with what happened today. We came out and played our game, and our defense was just solid.”
The key to victory was stopping the high powered Royal offense – and while Eastern Hancock rattled off 297 yards on 59 plays, it was the punt game that made the difference. Or maybe the lack of a punt game. Facing seven fourth downs in the game, the Royals punted just once, for seven yards, and the other six times they were stopped by the Tri-Central defense. Eastern Hancock led the state in scoring at a clip of 56 points per game and 52.6 in tournament play.
“Fourth downs were key; it didn’t surprise us they didn’t punt,” said Gilbert. “We were ready for that, and it showed.”
Offensively, Tri-Central scored first when Garrett Kelley found pay-dirt from one yard out following a seven play, 41 yard drive. The drive was set up by a fourth down sack by Darius Stanley. Seth Blunck caught a 23-yard Cody Howell pass for the second score with 43 seconds left in the first half, and following a 39-yard field goal from Cooper Henderson, the Trojans led 12-3 at the break.
Following another fourth down failure by Eastern Hancock, the Trojans marched 63 yards and put the game away with a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Howell.
“This is exciting, not only for us, but for the community,” said Howell. “I can’t say enough how much this means to us.”
How big is this win for Tri-Central? Five years ago when Gilbert took over, they finished 0-10. In the last 20 seasons, the Trojans have had five winless seasons and six one-win campaigns.
Kelley led the rushing attack for Tri-Central (14-1) with 78 yards and a score. Dillon Smith added 42 yards and Cody Colbert 34. Howell had 167 yards through the air with 89 going to Jade Pickett.
For Eastern Hancock (14-1), Spencer Gilbert rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown.
For more on this game, see the Dec. 3 edition of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana.