The Pickerington High School Central football team runs a diverse multiple-formation, one-back offense that utilizes as many as 24 different players throughout a game.

The Pickerington High School Central football team runs a diverse multiple-formation, one-back offense that utilizes as many as 24 different players throughout a game.

Orange (Calif.) Lutheran lines up in a base 4-3 defense that shifts into 30, 40 and 50 fronts depending on how its opponents line up.

Thus, when Central and Orange Lutheran meet at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Ohio State University in the Kirk Herbstreit Varsity Football Series, the game will feature an interesting chess match between the coaching staffs.

Central finished 13-1 last year after losing to Cincinnati Elder 24-10 in a Division I state semifinal.

"Our offense and their defense both are capable of doing a lot of different things well, so we just need to make sure we line up in the right formations and switch up what we're doing when we need to," said Central senior tight end/free safety Josh Kristoff.

"We have a lot of players who are capable of playing multiple positions, so we'll try to keep them guessing as to what we're doing, and hopefully our coaches are better chess players than their coaches."

Running back Tyler Hammond rushed for 1,134 yards and eight touchdowns on 172 carries and was special mention all-district. Twins Willie and Wuan Tatum have done well in scrimmages.

But despite having a first-year starting quarterback in Grant Hammond, Central coach Jay Sharrett said it's crucial the Tigers establish a balanced offense in the first half in order to find and exploit weaknesses in the Lancers' defense.

Orange Lutheran was 10-3 last year. Its defense is led by senior Division I college recruits Sean McEvilly (lineman) and Garret Gilliland (inside linebacker).

Other key defensive players are linebackers Junior Alvarado and Chance Baker, outside linebackers Matt Hill, Blake Hugaert and Lorenzo Devers, safety Garett Lieber and linemen Matt Cone, Preston Pemasa, Christian Licciardi and Jay Waneta.

"Usually when you scout teams, you look at their packages and counter them based on who they put out there," Sharrett said. "Since both teams are so diverse and have a lot of new players heading into week one, we'll have to go into this game kind of blind and probe each other for a quarter or two. By halftime, we'll know each other's grouping and packages better and we'll have a better idea of how we should attack and defend them."

Offensively, the Lancers alternate between veer option and spread formations.

Senior Bobby Wheaton is back at quarterback and his favorite targets are senior receivers Sean Rohr and Brandon Turner. Turner had 28 catches last year.

Gilliland and senior Damani Wilson are the Lancers' top returning running backs, and McEvilly and Pemasa are their top returning linemen.

With nine first-year starters on defense, Sharrett said it's crucial that his players quickly recognize which formation the Lancers line up in and make sure all the skill players are accounted for.

"Most option or spread teams stick with one scheme for most of the game, but this team can switch formations from play to play. So we have to be able to switch directions and make sure everyone knows their assignments based on how they line up," Sharrett said. "Their quarterback is a big, lefty with a good arm, so we have to make sure we don't leave anybody open when they change up what they're doing."

Kristoff said Central's defense switches between 20, 30, 40 and 50 fronts and blitz frequently to keep the Lancers' offense off balance.

"We're going to blitz from all over, whether it's our linebackers or safeties, to try to get to the ball quickly," Kristoff said. "We want to shut down their running game, because they threw the ball a lot in the one game they lost last year. They throw a lot of short passes but that plays to our strength, because we've got three returning starters in the defensive backfield including me, (strong safety) Eilar Hardy and (cornerback) Malcolm Pannell."

The game will be televised live nationally on ESPNU in a stadium that can hold more than 100,000 fans, but Sharrett said the big-game atmosphere shouldn't rattle either team.

Central is certainly used to that type of environment having reached the Division II state final in 2006 and the Division I state semifinals last year.

The Tigers, who have won OCC titles and advanced to the playoffs eight of the past 10 seasons, also beat cross-town rival North 38-7 in front of more than 10,000 fans in Crew Stadium last fall.

"Both of our programs have been in a lot of big-game situations the past few years and our players love it," Sharrett said. "This is a great opportunity to bounce back from our loss to Elder with another game that has that same playoff/bowl game atmosphere. We just want to represent the state of Ohio well against one of the better teams from the state of California. You know that they aren't coming 2,000 miles to play here unless they're a very good team."

Opener

CENTRAL vs. ORANGE (Calif.) LUTHERAN

•When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday

•Last meeting: First meeting

•Top Lancers: Junior Alvarado, Garret Gilliland, Matt Hill, Garett Lieber, Sean McEvilly, Preston Pemasa, Brandon Turner, Bobby Wheaton and Damani Wilson

Season Previews

To read the season previews for Central, North and all other area football teams, pick up a copy of the Friday Night Live '09 Central Ohio High School Football Preview, presented by Grange Insurance. The 112-page guide is now available at the following sites:

Nearby Grange Insurance offices:

•Oldham Turner Reade Insurance, 35 W. Church St., Pickerington.

Nearby Buffalo Wings & Rings:

•6325 E. Broad St., Columbus

The stories also are available at ThisWeekSports.com