As expected, the top-seeded Pickerington High School Central football team defeated eighth-seeded Troy in its Division I, Region 3 playoff opener last Saturday, winning 24-8 at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers have won six consecutive playoff openers. Coach Jay Sharrett said he learned to never take any playoff victory for granted in 2003 when second-seeded Central was upset by seventh-seeded Louisville 35-34 in the first round in Division II, Region 7.
Central improved to 10-0 and will play Westerville South in a Region 3 semifinal Saturday. Troy finished 8-3.
"We've played some tough first-round playoff games over the years and this was another one of those games," said Sharrett, whose squad lost to eventual state champion Hilliard Davidson 17-7 in a Region 3 semifinal a year ago. "We knew they were going to be tough to beat coming in, and fortunately, we've got a lot of guys who are playoff veterans and they helped prepare the team in the right way to win a playoff game."
The Tigers were aided by three players who missed multiple games because of injuries during the regular season but bounced back to play well against Troy.
Senior Eilar Hardy, who missed two games and played sparingly in two others because of a sprained right ankle, scored on offense and defense in the first quarter.
Hardy capped Central's first drive with a 37-yard touchdown run. Four plays later, Hardy intercepted a pass by Cody May and returned it 36 yards for another score.
Junior Jacoby Boren, who starts on both the offensive and defensive lines, returned after missing two games with a sprained knee and helped Central's defense limit the Trojans to 3 yards rushing on 26 carries.
Senior tight end Tyler Hammond, who missed Central's previous three games with a sprained foot, came back to help Central's offense run for 117 yards on 33 carries against Troy's large defensive line.
"We're getting close to being healed up again and having those three guys back in the lineup made a huge difference for us," Sharrett said.
"Eilar had been laying low, nursing that injury and playing when we needed him to. But now he's healed up, and (last Saturday), he came up with a couple of plays in the first quarter that were huge for us. He's the kind of player who can make a difference for you every game."
The Tigers will attempt to advance to a regional final for the third time in five years.
The Wildcats defeated fifth-seeded Dublin Coffman 28-14 last Saturday to improve to 9-2. Senior running back Jayshon Jackson rushed for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
Jackson has rushed for 2,432 yards and 23 touchdowns on 317 carries this season, but Central's defense has allowed only 590 rushing yards on 334 carries for a 1.76-yards-per-carry average.
"Jayshon Jackson is the face of their team," Central running back Tyler "Speedy" Hammond said. "Honestly, I can't name one other player off their team, but we know that he's a great player.
"We should match up great against them, because we have a great run defense. It's going to be the strength of their team against the strength of our team."
CENTRAL v s. WESTERVILLE SOUTH
Saturday at Gahanna
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