The Gahanna and Pickerington Central high school football teams both feature blitzing defenses that thrive on getting into the backfield quickly and creating turnovers.
The Tigers' multiple-front defense has forced 14 turnovers and allowed 2.6 points and 115 yards per game, including only 48 rushing, to help lead Central to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
The Lions' stack 3-5 defense has forced 14 turnovers and allowed 19.6 points and 214 yards per game, including 124 rushing. Gahanna is 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the league.
Both coaches said the team which does a better job of reading where the blitzes are coming from and securing the ball will likely win Friday when the Tigers play host to the Lions.
"Pickerington Central is fast and very aggressive," Gahanna coach John Snoad said. "We have to make sound, fundamental plays against their blitz and we've got to take care of the football.
"They're always looking to take the ball away from you and we can't afford to give them anything, because they're too good of a team already."
Central coach Jay Sharrett was also wary of the Gahanna defense.
"They're an aggressive defense that brings six or seven guys on any given play, so our offensive line needs to identify the blitz and make sure the right blocking scheme is called," he said. "The rest of our guys need to make quick decisions. Our quarterback will need to make the hot read and make sure he gets rid of the ball quickly enough that he doesn't take any more hits than he has to."
Snoad said his offense will continue to line up in a variety of formations to try to confuse Central's defense, which is led by four Division I college recruits in backs Patrick White (Michigan State) and Jamie Wood (Ohio State), linebacker Zach Boren (Ohio State) and lineman Blaine Burgess (undecided).
"We use multiple formations and take what defenses give us," Snoad said. "We need to get the ball to our athletes in space, and they'll need to capitalize by making plays when they have a shot at it."
Gahanna's leading receiver is Brandon Magbagbeola (14 catches, 263 yards, five touchdowns) and its leading rushing is Earl Cunningham (381 yards and two touchdowns on 83 carries).
But Sharrett said his defense will focus on containing quarterback Cord McCallister, who is 19-for-60 passing for 408 yards and seven touchdowns and has rushed for 200 yards on 41 carries.
"They have a multiple-attack offense that uses I, spread, double-tight and power-running formations, and they use a lot of misdirection to get defenses out of position to make plays," Sharrett said. "They've got a number of speedy playmakers, but the first thing we have to look at is their quarterback, because he's the one who orchestrates their entire offense. We've got to contain him around the edges, so he can't wheel and deal on us, like he's been doing to other teams. It's up to our linemen to continue getting penetration so our linebackers and backs can keep doing their thing."
Sharrett said Central's offense will continue to use multiple formations and will feature a balanced attack.
Nick Raymond is 47-for-90 passing for 649 yards and eight touchdowns. Tyler Hammond has rushed for 325 yards and three scores on 57 carries, Boren has rushed for 169 yards and four touchdowns on 37 attempts and Raymond has rushed for 158 yards on 30 carries.
Jared Miller has 12 receptions for 162 yards and three scores, White has 11 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns and Wood has eight receptions for 105 yards.
"We play eight guys on the offensive line and that allows us to use a number of different packages," Sharrett said. "We try to spread the ball around to get a number of different kids involved so our opponents can't focus on stopping one guy."
Snoad said his linebacker corps -- led by Ryan Larimer, Nick Snoad and Jeff Stone -- will need to quickly recognize where the play is heading and swarm to the ball.
"You could pull your hair out trying to figure out where they're going, because they spread the ball all over the place," Snoad said. "We've got to read the play, because they do something different on every play, and they use their guys in a number of different ways. For example, they line Wood up as a receiver, tailback and in the slot. They're very diverse."
GAHANNA LINCOLN at
•When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
•Last meeting: 2003, Central 24-19
•Central to date: Defeated Upper Arlington 23-6; def. Springfield 21-0; def. Westerville North 41-0; def. Lancaster 31-0; def. Pickerington North 38-7
•Top Tigers: Zach Boren, Blaine Burgess, Nick Raymond, Patrick White and Jamie Wood
GAHANNA 26, LANCASTER 18
•Star: Gahanna's Earl Cunningham rushed for just 50 yards, but gained 230 return yards in the first half, including a 75 yard kickoff return that set up the Lions' first touchdown and a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown to give them a 13-10 lead.
•Key play: Cunningham returned a Lancaster punt 93 yards for a touchdown with five minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the first half to give Gahanna a 13-10 lead.
•Key stat: Gahanna's defense recorded nine sacks and held Lancaster to 34 yards rushing.