Pickerington Central amid tough stretch
The Pickerington High School Central football team is aware of the difficult stretch it's in.
After holding on to beat Lancaster 14-10 on Sept. 14, the Tigers will play the second of three consecutive OCC-Ohio Division games against opponents they consider their biggest rivals when they travel Friday, Sept. 21, to Reynoldsburg. They play host to Pickerington North on Sept. 28.
The Tigers first met North in 2008, and this marks the first time that Central is facing the three schools consecutively.
"We got our old Fairfield County game (last week) and now we've got our oldest rival in school history coming up," Central coach Jay Sharrett said. "It's going to be another hard-hitting game."
Spanning back to the 1970s, the matchup between Central and Reynoldsburg has been unbalanced of late.
The Raiders beat the Tigers 30-14 in opening week of the 2001 season and went on to make the Division I, Region 3 playoffs for the only time in program history.
Central has won the last 10 meetings between the programs, however, and the only matchup during that stretch that was decided by seven points or fewer came in 2007 when the Tigers won 14-7.
Reynoldsburg, which lost to Central 42-14 a year ago, is 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio. The Tigers are 2-1 and 1-0.
Raiders coach Buddy White emphasized blocking and tackling after his team lost to Findlay 61-14 on Aug. 31, and Reynoldsburg responded with wins over Westerville North (55-0 on Sept. 7) and Grove City (26-16 on Sept. 14).
Both the Raiders and Tigers overcame occasionally sloppy play to win their games Sept. 14.
Central had three turnovers and gave up 94 yards rushing and a touchdown to Lancaster running back Isaiah Dexter, but got two interceptions and a fumble recovery from defensive back Nygel Hairston and caused five turnovers.
Reynoldsburg lost three fumbles, had three touchdowns nullified by penalties and was whistled for five personal fouls against Grove City. The Raiders led 20-3 after three quarters and got 187 yards and two touchdowns from running back Dionta Brown.
Brown got the bulk of the carries in place of Kumar Collins, who did not play because of an injury but is expected to return to the lineup against Central. A.J. Mitchell is another option at running back for the Raiders.
Reynoldsburg defensive lineman Emmanuel Beal, who was held out against Westerville North because of an injury, was back in the lineup against Grove City.
"When you look at (Central's) players, they do what they do and the kids they have out there do a great job of executing what they do," White said. "We're going to make sure we see what they do and we're going to counteract that. Our focus is going to be on us and doing what we do. We're not a finished product, but we're getting better and better."
Against Lancaster, Central junior quarterback Colby Simkins was intercepted twice but connected with Brenden Doyle for a 26-yard touchdown pass late in the first half to give the Tigers a 14-3 lead.
Central was able to hold on for the win behind the play of its defense, which is led by Hairston, lineman Taco Charlton and linebacker Greg Basalyga, and a pair of punts downed inside the 20 in the fourth quarter by Zach Gorman.
"It's going to be a huge game, the battle of (state route) 256," Hairston said of Central-Reynoldsburg matchup. "We're going to get better. This game was our OCC opener and we've got to come out fast (this) week."
"Once we decided to put a focus back on blocking and tackling is when we started getting better," White said. "Our kids really fired off the ball well (against Grove City) and defensively we didn't miss a lot of tackles. We have a little bit of depth (at running back) and guys that have had opportunities have stepped up."