The Tri-Central Trojans will be playing in their first ever IHSAA football championship game on Friday, and it’s safe to say the town of Sharpsville is pretty excited.
“This is what high school sports is all about,” said Trojans Head Coach George Gilbert. “In a Class A school, a lot of the time a community lives and dies by the success and failures of their kids. It kind of adds a little-extra to it, so this is a memorable year for us.”
Tri-Central will face-off against undefeated Eastern Hancock (14-0) in the Class A State championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium, kicking off a two-day event of six IHSAA football championships. If the opening act goes the way the Trojans have been playing all tournament long, fans of Indiana high school football might be in for a low scoring affair, at least for their opponents. The Trojans defense, lead by Senior defensive tackle Darius Stanley (110 tackles, 9 sacks), Senior linebacker Seth Blunck (102 tackles, 2 interceptions), and Sophomore cornerback Colton Leininger (92 tackles, 3 interceptions), the Trojans have only allowed 34 points over five contests this postseason.
“We have an outstanding coaching staff, and the kids have outstanding character,” said Gilbert. “We don’t have any superstars, everybody plays as one. It shows on Friday nights, the defense is outstanding and our offense is productive. You don’t win championships without great defense, and we’ve had great defense.”
On the offensive-side of the ball the Trojans have averaged 34.8 points per game this season, but scored their lowest point total in a 20-14 victory in the Semi-State championship over Winamac. However, the offense came up big exactly when they needed it. Tied at 14-14 with 2:41 left in the contest, Trojans Junior Cody Howell (25 TD’s, 5 INT’s) conducted an 80-yard drive that ended with a one-yard quarterback sneak with 4.5 seconds remaining to send the Trojans to the State championship game.
The Trojans opponent in Friday’s contest is a familiar one, as Eastern Hancock handed Tri-Central their only loss of the season back in the season-opener by the final of 47-35. The Royals enter Friday’s contest averaging 56 points per game, lead by a stellar running-combo of Spencer Gilbert (38 TD’s, 197.8 yards per game) and Cooper Henderson (14 TD’s, 67.1 yards per game).
“When we played them earlier, we were without players and they were,” said Gilbert.
“We had kids moved in different positions and that showed us that game that we needed to move some kids around, which we did and we’ve been very productive. So I think that loss was a good loss for us if you have to lose, and it really got us focused on our season. Our kids have really arose to the occasion. We really wanted to play Eastern Hancock again, so this is a great opportunity for two great programs that have come out of the ashes towards success.”
Friday’s Class A State championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium kicks-off at noon.