area's top team
The Pickerington High School Central football team received a lot of hype heading into the season.
Not only were the Tigers coming off a season in which they went 11-1, they also featured three players who have made verbal commitments to Big Ten schools in Zach Boren (Ohio State), Patrick White (Michigan State) and Jamie Wood (Ohio State).
Instead of letting the hype become a distraction, the Tigers lived up to it, putting together their second consecutive undefeated regular season and winning the OCC-Ohio Division title. They also were the ThisWeek Super 7 poll champions, ranked at No. 1 by unanimous vote from wire to wire.
Central defeated Hilliard Davidson 7-3 in a Division I, Region 3 final Nov. 15 to improve to remain unbeaten.
The Tigers lost last Saturday to Cincinnati Elder 24-10 in a state semifinal at Welcome Stadium in Dayton to finish 13-1.
"Nobody let the extra attention we received go to our heads, and we were able to stay focused on each game in front of us," coach Jay Sharrett said. "You can't ever plan on going 10-0 because these are high school kids and there's always the possibility that half your team could get hurt, sick or suspended. Our seniors and well-known players certainly played to their potential and were great leaders. And just as importantly, our younger players and the kids we had coming off the bench also answered the call when their role came up. You need that to have an undefeated regular season."
The Tigers' multiple-front defense gave up only 11 touchdowns and 32 first downs on 157 third-down conversion attempts through 13 games.
With its linemen creating space for inside linebackers Boren and Max Holbrook to make tackles and disrupt the backfield, Central gave up 854 yards rushing on 428 carries through 13 games.
Defensive backs White and Wood helped shut down opponents' passing games, as the Tigers had 16 interceptions and had given up 1,032 yards on 97 completions and 237 attempts.
The Tigers feature a diverse and balanced offense, which through 13 games had rushed for 2,755 yards and 31 scores and had passed for 1,645 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Nick Raymond was 111-for-216 passing for 1,494 yards, with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His favorite targets were White (38 catches for 598 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Wood (25 catches for 316 yards, 3 touchdowns).
Tyler Hammond (1,082 yards, 8 touchdowns, 166 carries) is Central's No. 1 tailback, and Boren (384 yards, 11 touchdowns, 89 carries) has been nearly unstoppable in short-yardage situations.