Led by its dominant defense, Pickerington Central whipped up Pickerington North, 27-7, qualifying for a sixth consecutive game for the regional title.
Newark, Ohio – With swirling rains enveloping Paul “Hoss” Starr at White Field on Friday, it was quite obvious that the Division I, Region 3 semifinal game between Pickerington Central and Pickerington North was to be a defensive slugfest. Finding a way to score – either by tilting the field position or taking advantage of a turnover – would likely determine the outcome.
The very talented Central Front Seven, with a multitude of Division I commitments and prospects, took the challenge to heart and smothered their City rival 27-7, avenging their only loss of the season ago. nine weeks and organizing a sixth consecutive trip to the regional title game.
With the University of Cincinnati, Tyler Gillison and CJ Doggette, Ball State-linked Dakari Frazier, and five-star junior rookie Alex “Sonny” Styles leading the charge, Central limited the north to 60 yards in total – and a total. zero in the air. The Panthers went 0 of 13 in third downs and also failed on two fourth downs.
“Having so many kids who have played 40-50 football games in their careers, they know when to dial it and they’ve done it again tonight in tough conditions,” center coach Jay Sharrett said . “It’s sudden death now every time you step onto the pitch. Things didn’t go very well in the first half, but these guys aren’t shaken. We threw it in the third quarter and it was almost like an avalanche effect. We use that real word, and that’s how we sometimes are.
The flood came in the third quarter when the Tigers scored three times (once on defense) in 4 minutes and 41 seconds to turn what was once a slim 7-0 halftime lead into an easy win. .
In the first possession of the second half and facing the third and 11s, Sharrett inserted wide receiver Isaiah Henderson at quarterback in a Wildcat lineup. Coming out of a quick little group, Henderson took the snap, came to the edge and ran 53 yards to get into scoring position. On the next play, Gillison slashed the Panthers with a 22-yard touchdown down center.
“We’ve been working on this game in training all season but this was only the second time we tried it and the first in Week 6 didn’t go very well,” said Henderson. . “It’s all about timing and finding the right time to perform the piece. I lower my head and let my blockers do the rest.
Sharrett added, “I think the game really activated this game.”
In the opening play of North’s next series, a gimmicky game exploded in the backfield and Eli Coppess fumbled. Gillison was there for the scoop and a 16-yard touchdown return. It was his third TD of the game. He got the first score on a 17-yard rush in the second quarter.
“I was just trying to make a game,” said Gillison, who is a 6-foot-3, 245-pound physical specimen. “I hit him and I just saw the end zone. Isaiah’s run and this game really got us going.
After forcing another three-and-outs that culminated in a 16-yard punt and a penalty tackle from the back, Central only needed four games to reach the end zone. Josh Harlan’s 15-yard scamper made it 27-0.
The shutout was ruined when the Panthers’ Blake Bennett caught a pass from Braden Mantooth and took it 35 yards to the end zone.
Central allowed only 8.2 points per game and lowered that average a little with his masterpiece against North (9-4). Frazier was credited with a sack and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Doggette forced a fumble. Styles was all over the field, making big hits.
North star fullback Dawaun Green, who tallied 1,170 yards and 20 touchdowns, had just 14 yards on eight carries.
“It’s probably the best defense in Ohio state,” North coach Nate Hillerich said, referring to the Tigers. “We were in pretty good shape coming out of half-time, but things rushed south. They just put us in too many thirds and long and pinned their ears and came after us. Giving them the defensive touchdown was a back breaker. We just didn’t have the firepower to come back.
Sophomore Dorian Hamilton came off the bench to account for almost all of the distance run in the North, rushing for 62 yards on eight attempts.
True to form, Central split the ball on offense, rushing for 209 yards on 43 carries. Gillison – who is on the wide receiver / linebacker / defensive lineman list – led the way with 63 yards on just six carries.
“Tyler is such a complete player,” said Sharrett. “When the weather gets colder and the games get bigger, we lean a bit more on our best athletes. He’s really light on his feet, has an explosive explosion, and is difficult to take down. “
After Central fell to North 13-10 in overtime in Week 4, some concluded the Tigers could be down from their high standards. The offense can sometimes be random. But here they are again, aiming for a 10th appearance in the final. It won’t be easy as Central (12-1) will face seeded Upper Arlington (13-0) on Friday at a venue to be determined.
“I don’t think a lot of us were that worried about getting revenge on North,” said Henderson. “That was a very long time ago. Sure, it’s good to beat your rival, but they just objected to where we wanted to go.
Central now leads the rivalry 15-4, four of those playoff wins.
It’s been an incredible run for Central, who won state titles in 2017 and 2019, was a finalist in 2020 and lost in the semifinals in 2016 and 2018. The Tigers are 74-9 over the course. of this sequence.
“At this point in the game, style points don’t count,” said Sharrett. “It’s about surviving and moving forward.