Pick Town set to clash
One of two central Ohio teams to be in the top 10 in last week's Division I state poll and ranked higher than Pickerington Central in last week's Region 3 computer ratings, the Pickerington High School North football team has more accolades than its sister school at the midpoint of a season for the first time.
But there is one other number the Panthers know they must overcome to continue to rise to new heights.
They are 0-5 against the Tigers.
North lost 24-21 at Central last season and will play this year's game at Central as well, on Friday, Sept. 28.
There will be five players on the field who have verbally committed to Division I colleges in Godwin Igwebuike (Northwestern), Jake Butt (Michigan) and Chris Huhn (Western Kentucky) of North and Taco Charlton (Michigan) and Nick Walter (Miami University) of Central.
Igwebuike attended Central as a freshman but transferred to North for his sophomore year. He sat out that season before becoming a key player at running back and defensive back a year ago.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge, but we have the players and the skill set this year," Igwebuike said. "I grew up with Taco and he's a great friend of mine, but we all know that when we get on the field, we all want to win."
In the other games in the series, Central won blowouts in 2008 (38-7) and 2010 (42-0) and a pair of tight games in 2009, 7-6 in the regular season and 14-12 in the first round of the playoffs. That remains North's only postseason appearance.
Both teams are 2-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
While North has outscored its opponents 233-69 and is 5-0 for the first time in program history, Central is coming off its second consecutive tight win and is 3-1 overall.
The Tigers rallied from a 20-7 deficit heading into the fourth quarter to win 21-20 at Reynoldsburg last weekend. Central tied it at 20 when Colby Simkins hit Andrew Meyer for a 49-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 12 seconds to go Sept. 21, but the game was suspended until the next day because of lightning as the Tigers were lining up for the extra point.
Freshman kicker Devon McMillin kicked it through after play resumed, and Central's defense held off the Raiders for the victory.
Meyer's touchdown was his first catch of the season. He didn't play in the first three games because of a stress fracture in his back and a torn glute, but saw limited action at cornerback in a 14-10 win over Lancaster on Sept. 14.
Senior running back Greg Basalyga rushed for 72 yards and Simkins was 4-for-15 passing for 114 yards against Reynoldsburg.
Senior Nygel Hairston, a running back and defensive back, rushed for a touchdown against the Raiders and had two interceptions and a fumble recovery against Lancaster.
"We're real excited for North," Meyer said. "We can't wait to play them. We had the game come down to the last few minutes last year.
"I feel like we've definitely improved a lot since two-a-days. We've got a lot of different options at wide receiver and we have running backs that can make plays."
Senior quarterback Mason Olszewski, who also is a starter in the defensive secondary, has rotated at quarterback with junior Zeph Miller. Olszewski has rushed for 329 yards and two touchdowns and is 27 of 46 passing for 585 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. Miller is 15 of 26 passing for 284 yards with two touchdowns.
Igwebuike is "like a cheat code on a video game," according to Olszewski. He has rushed for 15 touchdowns and has 893 yards on just 60 carries.
Butt starts at tight end and on the defensive line and has 16 catches for 228 yards with four touchdowns. Jamie Hence is North's second-leading receiver with eight receptions for 245 yards.
Junior Dylan Weigel is North's leading tackler and a starting linebacker who also plays on special teams. Senior linebacker Warren Stoddard also has been a key defender.
Huhn returned from an injury that kept him out the first four weeks and "looked good," according to coach Tom Phillips, during a 45-14 win Sept. 21 at Lancaster. He is expected to be a key player on the offensive line.
"I'm excited to go back down (to Central)," Phillips said. "It gives us a challenge because we've got to win on the road. We've got to limit our penalties, especially on the road. What our challenge was (before the Lancaster game) was to be a better run defense. Each week we're getting better."