First place in the OCC-Cardinal Division will be on the line Friday when the Westerville South High School football team visits Dublin Jerome.
South has won four consecutive games and is 4-1 overall, and Jerome is 3-2. Both teams are 2-0 in the league.
Last season, the Wildcats defeated Jerome 34-7 en route to winning the OCC-Cardinal title with a 7-0 record. Two years ago, the teams shared the championship with Olentangy Liberty at 5-2.
"We still have four other games," South coach Rocky Pentello said. "It doesn't make or break you, but it gives someone a leg up."
"This is going to be a huge challenge," Jerome coach Mark Hundley said. "Westerville South is a typical Westerville South team. I said they were the pick team in the league and it looks like they're holding up to that."
The game is expected to be a battle of high-powered offenses, as the Celtics are averaging 26.4 points a game and South 25.4.
Once a run-oriented team, Jerome now has a more diverse offense with its spread attack. Pentello noted that containing Celtics senior quarterback Ryan Gannon will be key. Gannon has completed 61 of 111 passes for 799 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions, and has rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries.
"What makes them so balanced is the quarterback can run and throw," Pentello said. "They're the only team (in the OCC-Cardinal) who has the quarterback back from last year, so I think that gives them a huge advantage over everybody else. We're going to have to play really well to have a chance."
Sophomore Donovan Wilson leads Jerome in rushing with 435 yards and six touchdowns on 93 carries. Junior wide receiver Cameron Wilson is Gannon's favorite target with 33 receptions for 338 yards and two touchdowns.
"The running back and the slot are very explosive," Pentello said of the Wilson brothers. "The quarterback is, too. Those are concerns, for sure."
Hundley noted that his team must find a way to slow down South's aggressive, four-man front defense, which is led by senior defensive end Mark Hensley and senior defensive back Miguel Alicea.
"Their defense puts all sorts of pressure on offenses with the way they blitz," Hundley said. "They'll send linebackers from anywhere. They'll send corners, they'll send safeties. They just blitz like crazy."
South senior running back Jayshon Jackson is having another stellar season, as he leads the team in rushing with 1,141 yards and eight touchdowns on 133 carries. He is complemented by a talented offensive line led by highly touted college recruit Ray Ball (6-foot-8, 315 pounds).
South will look to the pass in an attempt to take some pressure off Jackson. Sophomore quarterback Marcus Ball, Ray's brother, has played well in his first varsity season, completing 45 of 86 passes for 482 yards and five touchdowns. Wide receiver Kelly Carter has caught 11 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
"They have that Jackson kid who is running for hundreds of yards on everybody and a big offensive line that opens those holes and protects for this new quarterback while he's getting some good game experience," Hundley said.
Jerome's 4-4 base defense will look to contain the Wildcats.
"Defensively, they get to the ball really well and they don't stay blocked very long," Pentello said. "We can't turn the ball over and we have to keep the ball away from them. We have to try and minimize our penalties that have been killing us."