The Groveport High School football team upset previously-unbeaten Hilliard Darby 34-17 in the regular-season finale last year to qualify to the Division I playoffs for the first time since 1988 and prevent the Panthers from winning the OCC-Ohio Division title outright.

Coach Tim Brown thinks his Cruisers are capable of pulling off an even bigger shocker Friday when they play at Pickerington Central in an OCC-Ohio contest.

Central beat Gahanna 40-7 last Friday to improve to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Ohio. The Tigers, who have outscored their opponents 194-20, were third in the Division I state poll and first in the area poll last week.

Groveport beat Newark 20-6 last Friday to improve to 2-4 and 1-2. Central beat Groveport 15-9 in two overtimes last season.

"I think we match up well with them physically," Brown said. "I'm very optimistic that we can compete with anyone on our schedule if we don't make too many mistakes because that's what's killed us this year.
"If we can beat Pickerington Central we'll get a lot of computer points and we can go 6-4 and still make the playoffs. This is a playoff game for us and I'm sure they know that."
Central coach Jay Sharrett said the Tigers won't take the Cruisers lightly just because they have a losing record. Each of Groveport's four losses was by 10 or fewer points.

"Without a doubt, their record isn't a clear indication of the type of football they're playing," Sharrett said. "We know we've got to play well to beat them."

The Cruisers' wing-T offense is averaging 16.5 points and four turnovers per game. Groveport has had four touchdowns negated because of penalties.

After Jordan Elmore took over for Aaron McKenzie as starting quarterback last Friday, Groveport had only one turnover against Newark. The offense - which also is led by center Seth Nelson, running back Leveon Bell and slotback Jamon Hayes - didn't have any turnovers during a 27-7 victory over Dublin Jerome on Sept. 5.

Brown said Elmore will need to distribute the ball quickly and accurately to Groveport's backs and receivers when the Tigers blitz.

Central's multiple-front defense - which is led by backs Patrick White and Jamie Wood, linebacker Zach Boren and lineman Blaine Burgess - is allowing 3.3 points, 48.2 rushing yards and 71.5 passing yards per contest.

"Their defense tries to send more people than you can handle to force your hand," Brown said. "Their linebackers are really good and they blitz in a fashion that's hard to understand. For our offense, it will come down to avoiding those turnovers and penalties that have hurt us all year. We can't rush into poor decisions when they blitz. We'll need our linemen to pick up their blitzers. If we make good decisions, I'm confident that we'll be able to move the ball. They're such an aggressive defense that if you can get the right call at the right time, you can bust a big play on them."

After watching film of Groveport, Sharrett said the Cruisers run plays out of 25 formations in an effort to conceal who has the ball and which way the play is headed.

"We've got to recognize their motion and formation and be sure we put a set of shoulder pads on every possible ball-carrier, whether it looks like he has the ball or not," Sharrett said. "They've stumbled on their own account and have had a lot of mishaps, offensively, and we've got to make sure we get the ball if they make those kind of mistakes."

The Tigers' offense will attempt to stretch Groveport's 3-5 odd stack defense with an occasional deep pass to further free up space for its power running attack.

Nick Raymond is 55-for-108 passing for 763 yards, with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He has rushed for 163 yards on 32 carries.

Tyler Hammond has rushed for 462 yards and five touchdowns on 70 carries and Boren has rushed for 177 yards and five scores on 41 attempts.

White has 14 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns, Jared Miller has 13 receptions for 201 yards and three scores and Wood has 12 catches for 147 yards.

"They have an aggressive, blitzing defense, so we've got to recognize where the potential blitzes are coming from and have our guys block areas up," Sharrett said. "It's important to establish our running game, but we've got keep doing some other things well, too."

Brown said his defense - which is led by cornerback Justin Bell, Elmore at linebacker and Nelson on the line - needs to swarm to the ball and gang tackle on every play.

"They've got a lot of athletes, like Wood, who can catch a short pass and then run the length of the field if you're not a sure tackler," Brown said. "Our first concern is containing those quick-hit plays that can turn into long touchdowns."