When the lights shut off at Gahanna Lincoln High School on Friday night, either Gahanna or Pickerington North still will have a shot at the Division I playoffs.

The loser, in all likelihood, will not. Both teams are on the outside looking in for the eight playoff spots in Division 1, Region 3, and four consecutive wins to close the season is probably the only way in at this point.

In addition, Gahanna and North both trail Pickerington Central by one game in the OCC-Ohio Division race, and they know the odds of Central dropping more than one game are slim.

"We feel that if (Pickerington Central) has any kind of a letdown, we've got to win every game to have a shot to win a share of that title," Gahanna coach John Snoad said. "Secondly, if we want to make the playoffs, we've got to win."

North enters at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio after playing arguably its best game of the season in a 27-13 victory over Reynoldsburg last Friday. Gahanna suffered its third loss against an elite team last week, losing to Central 40-7 to fall to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the league.

North is 10th in Region 3, while Gahanna is 15th.

The success of both teams has depended largely on the progress of their young offensive lines. North's offense has struggled at times, but coach Tom Phillips said he has seen consistent improvement. The Panthers' biggest deficiency has been an inability to run the ball effectively.

"We need to keep on improving on our running game," Phillips said. "We need to establish the rush so we can get some relief for our quarterback and our receivers."

As a team, the Panthers are rushing for 112 yards per game after gaining 140 against Reynoldsburg. They should also see improvement as junior Gianni Lynch gets closer to 100 percent.

Lynch was injured during preseason and has been working himself back into shape since returning to the lineup Sept. 12 against Groveport. Phillips said he still expects to rotate Lynch, junior Matt Ferguson and junior Kevin Duckworth at the running back spot.

Gahanna, which uses a 4-3 defense, is allowing 147 yards rushing per game. Aside from a 42-7 loss to Upper Arlington on Aug. 30 in which they allowed 414, the Lions have held opponents to 93 yards rushing per game. The bulk of the experience for the Lions is at linebacker and defensive line.

Phillips said he was impressed by Gahanna linebackers Ryan Larimer, Nick Snoad and Jeffrey Stone.

North quarterback Sean Flaherty has passed fairly effectively, hitting on 60 percent of his passes for 677 yards and four touchdowns. His top target has been 6-foot-4, 226-pound tight end Alex Bayer, a Bowling Green recruit. Flaherty also looks often to wide receivers Justin Young and Chris Johann.

Snoad said he is most concerned with how his team will react to North's multiple offensive looks.

"They run a number of different packages, and I think adjusting to each package will be the defense's challenge," Snoad said. "They'll line up in a power set with a stack-I and then turn around and be in the shotgun spread."

Defensively, North uses multiple 50 fronts and played its best game of the season last Friday. Phillips credited that partly to simplifying the scheme so that his defensive linemen don't switch sides on different plays.

Snoad said he was concerned about 6-5, 240-pound defensive lineman Jairus Campbell, who also has committed to Bowling Green, as well as a solid group of linebackers, led by Ferguson.

"Controlling the line of scrimmage (will be key)," Ferguson said. "Our linebackers have to fly to the ball, with our DBs, too. But we have to control the line of scrimmage big-time. Their offensive line is pretty good."

Though it hasn't always been consistent, Gahanna's offense has proven to be versatile. Phillips said his defense must first contain athletic quarterback Cord McCallister, who hasn't put up huge numbers but has a strong arm and quick feet. Senior Brandon Magbagbeola has been far and away his top target at receiver, with 16 catches for 272 yards and five touchdowns.

On the ground, the Lions have gotten several big games from speedy tailback Earl Cunningham, who has gained 481 yards with three touchdowns. What concerns Phillips most about Cunningham, however, is his ability to change the game on special teams.

Cunningham had 293 yards and a touchdown on just four returns in a 26-18 win over Lancaster on Sept. 19. He is averaging 30.1 yards per kickoff return and 38 yards per punt return with two touchdowns.

"Oh we'll keep the ball away from him, I'll guarantee that," Phillips said. "If it goes to him, we messed up."