Two teams with losing records will take the field Friday when the Pickerington High School North football team travels to Reynoldsburg for an OCC-Ohio Division contest, but after the way both teams played last Friday, it's clear that neither team is an easy out.
"They've just had some bad breaks like we've had," said North coach Tom Phillips, whose team lost to Pickerington Central 7-6 last Friday to fall to 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Ohio. "We didn't get a couple of first downs or produce a touchdown when we got field goals or hold onto the ball against Groveport (during a 14-10 loss on Sept. 18). We're very similar in that we've both been very competitive during games."
Reynoldsburg notched its first win last Friday by defeating Newark 47-0 to improve to 1-4 and 1-0.
Pickerington North led nearly the entire game against Central, before giving up a fourth quarter touchdown with 3 minutes, 33 seconds left in the game. The Panthers nearly changed the balance of power in Pickerington last Friday, and now they're looking to rebound against a Reynoldsburg team they beat 27-13 last year.
Reynoldsburg's first four opponents have a combined record of 16-4 and, after last Friday's win, the Raiders, who feel they've improved significantly since the start of the season despite the losses, finally had something to show for it.
"It was priceless," Raiders coach Steve Evans said of the atmosphere after the win. "We've been battling it there for the first four weeks and finally seeing our hard work pay off gave us confidence."
The Raiders led in losses to Dublin Jerome (16-6 on Aug. 28), Cleveland Glenville (35-14 on Sept. 5) and Watterson (16-14 on Sept. 11).
"We were unable to hold those leads," Evans said. "We look at the teams that remain on the schedule and we say we're not going to see a better opponent than what we've already seen. We might see some just as good, but not better."
North's offense primarily played out of a spread formation last year and has played some spread this season. But with a bigger offensive line, the Panthers have started to use more power formations.
North's strategy against Central was to use their power to negate the speed of Central's defense. The Panthers will go into Friday's game with the same philosophy against a Reynoldsburg defense with two Division I prospects in safety Devon McKoy and defensive end Roosevelt Nix. McKoy has verbally committed to Bowling Green and Nix (5-foot-11, 235 pounds) has drawn interest from several MAC schools.
"We have to contain their speed," Phillips said. "In our coaches meeting, we said the key is going to be to contain their speed. They have McKoy back there at safety and both of their corners are very fast."
Evans is expecting to see North in both power and spread formations, which is nothing the Raiders haven't seen from an opponent. Both Jerome and Glenville ran offenses that featured both power and spread formations.
Nix will be the focal point of a North offensive line led by right tackle Steven Crane (6-5, 340). The rest of the line includes Luke Carothers (6-2, 240), Pat Elflein (6-2, 240), Alex Huettel (6-4, 250) and Kyle Shaeffer (6-1, 225).
North's offense is led by quarterback Sean Flaherty. His top target is David Lomax, and running backs Matt Ferguson and Gianni Lynch split time in the backfield.
Phillips is pleased with the play of his offense, but the Panthers must do a better job finishing drives than they did against Central. North failed to reach the end zone against the Tigers, getting its six points on Flaherty field goals of 23 and 46 yards.
Defensively, North will rely on linebackers Ferguson, Lynch and Jude Jatau as well as defensive linemen Jalen Campbell and Chris Fuqua to shut down the Raiders' running game. The Panthers held Central's Tyler Hammond to just 28 yards on 26 carries last Friday. North is allowing an average of 10.4 points per game.
"I'm very happy about our defensive front versus the run," Phillips said. "Right now our defense is playing well."
Reynoldsburg ran for 427 rushing yards against Newark. Fullback Dominique Walker rushed 17 times for 239 yards and two touchdowns, filling in as the featured running back for an injured Derrick Goliday. Tight end Darien Bryant is a featured target in a passing game the Raiders use sparingly.
"They're going to be a big, physical team that's going to try to wear you down," Evans said. "I think a big key is going to be our special teams' play. We've relied on our defense and they've been able to get a big shutout. (Against North), we're going to have to play sound offense, rely on our defense and play the field position game."
North punter Zach Olszewski celebrates as Central's Willie Tatum hangs his head after the Tigers were called for a roughing penalty.
NORTH at REYNOLDSBURG
•When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
•North (2-3, 0-1 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Defeated Dublin Scioto 12-7; lost to Logan 24-21; def. Mifflin 43-0; lost to Groveport 14-10; lost to Pickerington Central 7-6
•Reynoldsburg (1-4, 1-0 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Lost to Dublin Jerome 16-6; lost to Cleveland Glenville 35-14; lost to Watterson 16-14; lost to Dublin Coffman 37-0; def. Reynoldsburg 47-0
•Top Panthers: Matt Ferguson (RB/LB), Sean Flaherty (QB), Chris Fuqua (DL), Jude Jatau (LB), Devin Lomax (WR) and Gianni Lynch (RB/LB)
•Top Raiders: Darien Bryant (TE), J.C. Gibson (QB), Devon McKoy (CB), Roosevelt Nix (DE) and Dominique Walker (RB)