The Westfield High School football team worked hard to put itself in a position to win against traditional state power Center Grove.
“We’ve worked hard for a year, since we left here last year, to be ready to win this game,” Shamrocks coach Jake Gilbert said. “We didn’t come here to take part. We came here to take over and win. I hope that showed. The kids competed their butts off, in my opinion.”
The effort did show, but the second-ranked Shamrocks still weren’t able to get past No. 1 Center Grove, losing 27-21 in the Class 6A state championship game Nov. 27 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The defending state champion Trojans completed their second consecutive 14-0 season.
“This is a devastating loss,” Gilbert said. “The average person is like saying, ‘You played Center Grove really well.’ We came here to win. We are devastated. I’m super proud of the kids, but we expected to win the game. We have to refresh. We’re really dinged up. That was a physical game. Both teams laid it all out there. Kudos to those guys (Trojans). They played their butts off, too. That’s who we are trying to become.
“Both teams left every ounce out there they possibly could. We were just maybe one play short.”
The game was much closer than the Shamrocks’ 38-14 loss to Center Grove in the 2020 state championship game.
Westfield (12-2) was driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, but with the ball at the Center Grove 11-yard line, Owen Bright intercepted Shamrocks senior quarterback Maximus Webster’s pass with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter, effectively sealing the victory for the four-time state champion Trojans.
“I thought we were going to win until we threw the pick,” Gilbert said. “I 100 percent thought if we got a stop and got the ball back, we would score. We darn near did.”
Senior running back/defensive back Micah Hauser had touchdown runs of 15, 25 and 1 yards. Hauser’s 1-yard TD run closed the deficit to 27-21 in the third quarter. Hauser had a team-high 10 tackles, one more than senior defensive end Popeye Williams, who has committed to the University of Louisville.
Webster completed 19 of 33 passes for 226 yards.
Webster, who has committed to play for Ball State University, said the team just came up short.
“We’re not going to judge our season on one game,” he said. “It was a hell of a game. Everyone played well. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but the seniors played hard. We gave it all we had. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Webster said the seniors set a good example for younger players.
“We’ll be back next year,” he said. “I know our guys. I know Coach Gilbert will get them going next season. Most of these guys will be at my wedding in the future. I love these guys and I’m never going to forget them.”
Hauser said the loss will sting for some time.
“This started in the second half of last year’s (state title game),” Hauser said. “That fuel drove us the entire year. To come up super short is frustrating.”
Hauser, who finished with 1,317 rushing yards and 26 TDs, has played with Webster since fifth grade.
“He’s going to be successful wherever he goes,” Hauser said. “He’s truly the best leader I’ve ever seen at this level. It’s going to be sad to part ways with him.”
Gilbert said Webster often has “willed the team to victory.”
“He’s one of the most special leaders and kids I’ve ever been around,” Gilbert said.
The Shamrocks’ only other loss came against Class 5A state champion Cathedral, 14-0, in the season opener.
“We’ve won 20 straight HCC (Hoosier Crossroads Conference) games, and HCC is a tremendous conference,” Gilbert said. “We’ve gone 24-4 over the last two years. These seniors set the tone and moved the needle on our program where it needed to be. When we elevated to a 6A program, we had to do things in a 6A way to compete out here against a team like (Center Grove). Those guys are (ranked) seventh in the country (by USA Today Super 25).”
Gilbert said the staff will evaluate the next steps to keep the program’s momentum going.
“That’s supposed to be one of the best all-time (Indiana) teams,” Gilbert said of Center Grove. “They were a little better. So, my gosh, we’re not far. If we keep improving, maybe we’ll be back here soon.”
Westfield senior offensive guard Will Strahm was named the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award winner for Class 6A.