The strength of the Pickerington High School Central football team has been its run defense, as the Tigers have given up 534 rushing yards on 302 carries, an average of 1.8 yards per attempt.

The strength of the Pickerington High School Central football team has been its run defense, as the Tigers have given up 534 rushing yards on 302 carries, an average of 1.8 yards per attempt.

Despite those statistics, Delaware coach Mike LoParo said the Pacers will try to run the ball right at Central their Division I, Region 3 playoff opener Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

Sixth-seeded Delaware beat Olentangy Orange 21-7 last Friday to improve to 7-3 and qualify to the playoffs for the first time. Third-seeded Central beat Reynoldsburg 28-0 last Friday to improve to 10-0 and qualify to the playoffs for the eighth time in 10 seasons.

"Because they're so fast and they move so well, we have to run straight at them," LoParo said. "We'll mix it up by running to the inside and outside, but we've got to put hats on hats and we've got to be quick."

Quarterback Taylor Wood directs Delaware's option offense. He is 89-for-159 passing for 1,607 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also has rushed for 808 yards and seven touchdowns on 154 carries.

Wood pitches the ball to slotbacks Jake Nicol (79 carries for 523 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Kody Akers (36 carries for 209 yards, 3 touchdowns). His favorite passing targets are Nicol (27 receptions for 562 yards, 4 touchdowns), Akers (16 receptions for 219 yards, 1 touchdown) and Nate Decker (6 catches for 193, 5 touchdowns).

Central defensive coordinator Jeff Lomonico said his four linemen -- Blaine Burgess, Cory Cosby, Jon Harlan and Paris Wadlington -- will need to fight through Delaware's veer blocking schemes to allow inside linebackers Zach Boren and Max Holbrook to make tackles on the running plays.

"Our front four have done a great job of protecting our inside backers and making plays themselves, and that's going to be really important in this game," Lomonico said. "Our backs are going to need to make sure they take care of all of their assignments, because their quarterback likes to drop back and throw, and he can really fire the ball downfield."

Lomonico said the Tigers will continue to run stunts or blitzes on nearly every play.

Central's multiple-front defense is led by four Division I recruits including Boren (Ohio State), Burgess (undecided) and defensive backs Patrick White (Michigan State) and Jamie Wood (Ohio State).

Boren has 124 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the Tigers, who have given up six points per game.

LoParo said his offensive linemen, led by center Ben Steele, will need to do a better job of recognizing where the blitz is coming from than they did during a 28-22 loss to Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 5 and a 36-21 loss to Big Walnut on Oct. 3.

"We've got to pick up blitzes and give our quarterback the chance to make good decisions," LoParo said. "We'll go as our quarterback goes. When he does well, we do well. When he struggles, we struggle."

Coach Jay Sharrett said the Tigers' offense will line up in multiple formations and will try to keep the Pacers' 50 shade defense guessing by spreading the ball around.

The Tigers' offense has been balanced, rushing for 1,974 yards and passing for 1,487 yards.

Nick Raymond is 98-for-186 passing for 1,380 yards, with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. White has 32 catches for 520 yards and five touchdowns, Wood has 22 catches for 293 yards and three scores and Jared Miller has 18 receptions for 263 yards and three touchdowns.

Tyler Hammond has rushed for 848 yards and five touchdowns on 140 carries and Boren has 247 rushing yards and eight scores on 68 attempts.

"Their defense doesn't get fooled on counters or reverses and they don't give up many big plays, so we've got to be patient and sustain long drives," Sharrett said. "They play great team defense and run to the ball well, so we've got to mix in the run and pass and get the ball to different people, so they can't focus on shutting down one guy."

The Pacers will load the box to try to take away Central's running game. LoParo is counting on middle linebacker Evan Welsh and outside linebacker Matt Cornell to have big games.

Welsh has 48.5 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Junior cornerback Michael Corbett has 48.5 tackles and Akers has 32 tackles and three interceptions.

"We've seen a ton of offensive formations from them, so we've got to be prepared for everything," LoParo said. "They like to run the ball right at you, so we'll need to move well to the ball. They also run a lot of play-action, so we've got to be ready to defend that. Our first priority is to make them have to put it in the air. We can't let them run it on us all night."

Next game

DELAWARE HAYES at CENTRAL

•When: 7:00 p.m. Saturday

•Last meeting: First meeting

•Delaware (7-3) to date: Defeated Buckeye Valley 17-14; lost to Olentangy 24-21; lost to Olentangy Liberty 28-22 (OT); def. Franklin Heights 37-6; def. Mount Vernon 28-7; def. Watkins Memorial 41-14; lost to Big Walnut 36-21; def. Jonathan Alder 21-14; def. New Albany 31-28; def. Olentangy Orange 21-7

•Top Pacers: Kody Akers, Michael Corbett, Jacob Nicol, Evan Welsh and Taylor Wood

Last game

CENTRAL 28, REYNOLDSBURG 0

•Star: Central's Zach Boren, who made several tackles, forced two fumbles and scored on 3- and 6-yard runs

•Key play: On a third-and-15, Nick Raymond threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Patrick White to make it 14-0 midway through the third quarter.

•Key stats: Central forced eight turnovers and limited Reynoldsburg to 92 yards of offense.