Mason Olszewski tossed a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Jake Butt and Godwin Igwebuike rushed for 139 yards and a score on 20 carries to lead the Pickerington High School North football team to a 24-14 win over Hilliard Darby in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal Nov. 10 at Gahanna.
Seeded fourth in the region, North improved to 11-1 and advanced to play seventh-seeded Hilliard Davidson (10-2) in the region final Saturday, Nov. 17, at a site to be determined.
Darby, the top seed, finished 11-1.
“This is new and exciting for us,” said North coach Tom Phillips, whose team hadn't won a playoff game before this season. “Hilliard Darby kicked our butt and took a 14-7 lead at halftime and that’s the first time we’ve had our backs against the wall in a game like this all year. But we’re blessed with a great senior class and the kids never stopped believing in themselves.”
Darby’s defense limited North to three possessions and 84 yards in the first half while taking a 14-7 lead.
On its first possession, Darby put together a 19-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that consumed 9 minutes, 11 seconds and was capped by a 1-yard run by quarterback Chase Longwell.
North responded with a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took 6:47 off the clock and culminated with a 12-yard pass from Olszewski to Butt. North converted twice on fourth down on the drive.
On its second possession, Darby went on an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed 5:59 and ended with a 23-yard pass from Longwell to Caleb Day with just 1:07 remaining in the second quarter.
“We knew that Pickerington North has a lot of athletic players, so we wanted to control the clock and limit their amount of opportunities, and we did a good job of that in the first half,” Darby coach John Santagata said.
On North’s first possession of the second half, Igwebuike took a handoff from Olszewski, cut back twice and raced 63 yards untouched for a touchdown that tied the game at 14.
“I kept asking the coaches to let me run outside,” Igwebuike said. “Teams have been trying to control me. I don’t think they were ready for that play. I got a crease and, when I get room, I’m going for green.”
On its next possession, North went on a 15-play, 77-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 1-yard pass from Olszewski to Butt on fourth down to put North ahead 21-14 with 8:04 remaining.
“The kids wanted to go for it, but that was a coaching decision and we decided we were willing to take that chance,” Phillips said. “We practiced that play all week in case we were in that situation and the kids did a great job of executing it.”
On the ensuing possession, Darby turned the ball over on downs at its own 34-yard line, setting up a 29-yard field goal by Karch Holland that extended North's lead to 24-14 with 49.4 seconds remaining.
Olszewski was 13-for-16 passing for 96 yards and Butt had six receptions for 60 yards and two scores.
Hayden VanKirk paced Darby's offense, rushing for 75 yards on 19 carries. Longwell, who entered the game with 934 yards rushing and 822 yards passing, was limited to 28 yards rushing on 10 carries and 4-for-9 passing for 43 yards.
“We made some defensive adjustments at halftime and held them to 0-for-4 on their possessions in the second half,” Phillips said.
HD--Longwell 1 run (Kaplan kick)
PN--Butt 12 pass from Olszewski (Holland kick)
HD--Day 23 pass from Longwell (Kaplan kick)
PN--Igwebuike 63 run (Holland kick)
PN--Butt 1 pass from Olszewski (Holland kick)
PN--Holland 29 FG