In front of a large, enthusiastic crowd at Columbus Crew Stadium last Friday, the Pickerington High School Central football team slipped past Pickerington North 7-6 to earn bragging rights within the community for a second consecutive year.

In front of a large, enthusiastic crowd at Columbus Crew Stadium last Friday, the Pickerington High School Central football team slipped past Pickerington North 7-6 to earn bragging rights within the community for a second consecutive year.

Central coach Jay Sharrett said everyone who played in or witnessed the nail-biter was a winner.

"The atmosphere and environment here for this game was unbelievable," said Sharrett, whose squad improved to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division. "Both student sections were juiced and charged up, and to have this game in such a great venue is what our community deserves. When we play North, it never feels like we're playing a true opponent. It's more like playing an extension of your community because these kids grew up together and respect each other. This game is not about one school or the other -- it's all about Pickerington."

After Central pounded North 38-7 in the first game of the series last year, North coach Tom Phillips was pleased with how competitive the Panthers were the second time around, even though he was disappointed with the final result.

"I'm proud of the way both teams played here tonight," said Phillips, whose team dropped to 2-3 and 0-2. "People used to say that the football players in our community have a different attitude on the other side of the tracks, but that wasn't true tonight because we were every bit as physical as they were. It was a great game, and Pickerington was represented well on both sides. We're two different schools, but we're one community."

Fans in both student sections painted their bodies and faces. Several Tigers' fans painted themselves orange with black stripes. Many of North's fans painted their bodies black, and wore white-and-red face paint that mimicked the comic book villain The Joker.

North senior running back/linebacker Matt Ferguson said it was the loudest crowd noise of any game he's played in.

Ferguson rushed for 107 yards on 25 carries to help set up 23- and 42-yard field goals by Sean Flaherty to put North ahead 6-0 in the third quarter. But the Tigers limited the Panthers to just 144 total yards.

"I remember looking up in the stands and being impressed with how cool the body paint looked and how loud both sides were," Ferguson said.

"It was so loud, we couldn't hear anything on the field. We couldn't even hear the quarterback calling audibles at the line of scrimmage. Last year, we were overwhelmed by this type of atmosphere because we hadn't been in a game like that before. This year, we believed we could beat them, and we had them beat until the very end."

Central produced only 125 yards and five first downs, but put together a seven-play, 65-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.

On third-and-4, backup quarterback Nick Jensen-Clagg threw a 43-yard pass to Tyler Hammond. Willie Tatum scored on a 1-yard run on the next play with only 3 minutes, 33 seconds left. After the game, the players and coaches shook hands at midfield with no altercations.

"The rivalry is intense, but they're like our brothers because we've played football with them since little league," Central senior defensive back/wide receiver Malcolm Pannell said. "Matt Ferguson and I played on the same little league teams until middle school, and we're still friends. I found him after the game and told him that he played a great game and to keep his head up because they're a good team and they're going to win more games. I'm just glad we beat them."