Nov. 2—Eleven consecutive victories. No losses.
This Friday, Tri-Central will be the 12th team to challenge Carroll in the championship game of Class A Sectional 43. Up until now, no team has managed to defeat Carroll, and not a single team has even come close to challenging the Cougars, who are ranked No. 3. In their closest game this season, Carroll triumphed over Sheridan with a 24-0 victory, clinching the Hoosier Heartland Conference title on Oct. 13.
Carroll is determined to secure their third straight sectional title.
“They are an incredibly talented team,” said TC coach Shane Arnold of Carroll’s Cougars led by coach Blake Betzner. “Coach Betzner has done an outstanding job building such an incredible program. He has an exceptional coaching staff, and their team is stacked with talent.”
Carroll has dominated their opponents this season, amassing an impressive 11-0 record. Keegan Ellis has been a driving force, rushing the ball 170 times for 1,456 yards and 27 touchdowns. Griffin Viney has contributed 430 yards and 11 TDs. As a team, Carroll has rushed for an incredible 3,037 yards. Quarterback Luke Tanner has showcased his skills by completing 49 out of 73 passes for 1,098 yards with 12 TDs and only three interceptions. Trent Metzger has made a significant impact with nine catches for 303 yards, Viney with 10 catches for 228 yards, and Clark McClain with 10 catches for 205 yards.
“The quarterback Tanner does an exceptional job leading the team,” praised Arnold. “He is an exceptional quarterback with great throwing and running abilities. Combine that with Ellis, who is a powerhouse fullback that’s challenging to bring down. And then there’s Viney, who caused us a lot of trouble last time. They execute the wing-T offense flawlessly.”
The Cougars average an astonishing 48.5 points per game and have a rock-solid defense that only allows 3.7 points per game—the best defensive average in the state. Linebacker Dominic Barnes leads the team with 97 tackles. Coy Lytle has contributed 55 tackles, while Emery Deaton and Carter Mullins have each made 52 tackles.
“Defensively, their front guys are exceptional … and their linebackers are extremely talented,” Arnold acknowledged. “The Barnes kid is everywhere. The team is incredibly well-coached, and they excel at playing as a unit.”
“The [Andre] Hernandez kid on the front line is a force to be reckoned with. You could have three guys trying to block him, and he’d still make the play. This opens up opportunities for the Barnes kid to make plays. Their defensive line does such an outstanding job that their linebackers can clean up and make plays all over the field.”
Tri-Central is the 12th team to face Carroll this season, having previously lost to Carroll 42-0 on Sept. 22. Back then, the Trojans (5-6) were in a transitional phase, rearranging their key offensive players and struggling to adapt to Carroll’s style with two linemen out of action. The following week, TC suffered another loss to Eastern, leaving them at a dismal 1-6. However, they have managed to turn things around by securing four consecutive victories since then.
“They have a lot of skill players. They’ve been running some new offensive schemes, presenting different challenges,” said Betzner of TC. “They moved their quarterback [Owen Tolle] to running back. They’ve experienced success in recent weeks. They have multiple players who can make an impact. They have a strong presence up front. When playing against them, you know they will try to grind out three yards per carry and wear the opponent down.”
Betzner mentioned that Carroll’s defense has effectively adjusted in their past three games, adapting to opponents who have introduced different strategies than those seen on film earlier in the season. In terms of offense, the Cougars had a rocky start in their first postseason game against Tri-County, committing four turnovers in the first half. However, they managed to clean up their act in their last game against Caston and obtained a commanding 35-0 lead at halftime.
Gatlin Hinkle has been a standout player for TC, rushing for an impressive 627 yards. Tolle, who has transitioned to a running back position, has contributed 605 yards. Jacob Cline has amassed 411 rushing yards. Brody Arnold has assumed the role of QB. Cline leads TC defensively with 77 tackles, while Aaron Hoback has made 66 tackles.
“We need to start strong and show that we can compete with them,” Arnold emphasized. “We have to prevent giving up big plays—similar to what we did against West Central last week. If we can establish a strong running game and have a multifaceted offense, we may have a chance to stay competitive until the end. But it will take a monumental effort from us to accomplish that. They have a senior-heavy team, while we have sophomores and freshmen on the field.”
Carroll’s physical dominance and their ability to control the line of scrimmage have made them a tough team to contend with. Arnold praised Carroll’s line play, while Betzner attributed Carroll’s success to their players’ commitment to the weight room, recognizing the crucial role played by the linemen.
“Our offensive and defensive lines are incredibly strong and athletic, which allows us to overpower our opponents,” Betzner explained. “We have emphasized to our linemen that if they win the initial 6 inches at the line of scrimmage, it sets us up for success. But if they fail to win that battle, it will be a long and difficult night for us. Our linemen, I told them [Monday], that if they lose the battle up front, our season is over. That’s been our mindset throughout the year.”
Alex Martin is your guide to the global phenomenon of football. With a focus on international leagues and tournaments, he provides match commentary, player interviews, and behind-the-scenes stories from the world of football.