Pickerington Central, Pickerington North to face off again
Preparing to face an opponent that just five weeks ago handed it its worst loss since 2004 might be more complicated for the Pickerington High School Central football team than simply chucking its previous game plan.
Senior two-way standout Greg Basalyga expects his team to take a different approach in some areas when it plays Saturday, Nov. 3, at Pickerington North in a first-round playoff game and rematch of a contest the Panthers won 37-0 on Sept. 28.
Neither team's playbook, however, might impact the outcome more than North's big-play potential.
In the earlier matchup, the Panthers had three touchdowns of more than 30 yards, piled up 446 total yards and limited the Tigers to 2.3 yards per carry and 147 total yards.
North is seeded fourth and Central fifth in Division I, Region 3.
"I think we're definitely going to do some stuff differently this time," said Basalyga, whose team's loss to North was its worst since it fell 38-0 to eventual state champion Brookhaven in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal in 2004. "Honestly, the big thing is that we've got to limit their big plays. ... We've got to shore up our tackling. We contained Godwin (Igwebuike) pretty well, but we've got to contain their other guys."
The teams enter the matchup coming off drastically different outcomes to end the regular season.
Central rallied from a 17-point first-quarter deficit to beat Gahanna 28-23 on Oct. 26 and finish the regular season at 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
North failed to complete an unbeaten regular season by losing 13-10 at Grove City. The Panthers are 9-1 overall and went 6-1 in the league to share the title with Central.
The loss provided what North coach Tom Phillips called a "life lesson."
"I think our kids are going to respond," he said. "The best thing about it is that they're going to be going against somebody they know very well. You wish you had 10 perfect games and it didn't happen, so we've just got to move on. About 12 hours later, I could see that they were a different (team)."
In the earlier matchup, Igwebuike rushed for 84 yards but Mason Olszewski was 18-for-28 passing for 259 yards with three touchdowns and Jake Butt had eight catches for 88 yards and one score. Igwebuike scored on a 32-yard pass from Zeph Miller, Justin Childers had a 33-yard touchdown catch and Tanner Gillum had a 51-yard touchdown catch.
Igwebuike rushed for 171 yards against Grove City. He has 1,482 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns.
Olszewski has passed for nearly 1,300 yards with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Butt has more than 40 receptions.
A Central defense led by Basalyga (LB), Nygel Hairston (DB) and Taco Charlton (DL) gave up a combined 20 points in its first three games after the loss to North.
The Tigers had five turnovers against Gahanna, two of which led to 10 points for the Lions.
Brent Walton is Central's leading rusher with 579 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tawain Gordon has 443 yards and three touchdowns, and Basalyga has 389 yards and five scores. Colby Simkins is 44-for-109 passing for 878 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and 11 players have at least one reception as Brenden Doyle leads the way with 11 catches for 132 yards and one touchdown.
Dylan Weigel (LB) is the leading tackler for a North defense that has posted three shutouts, with the others coming over Newark (56-0 on Sept. 14) and Gahanna (42-0 on Oct. 19).
Other key players on North's defense are Warren Stoddard (LB), Kody Kasey (DB), Geno Rollo (DL), Butt (DL/LB), Olszewski (DB) and Igwebuike (DB).
The teams began playing in 2008, and Central holds a 5-1 advantage. The Tigers beat the Panthers 14-12 in the first round of the 2009 playoffs, which is the only postseason game in North's history.
Central was the state runner-up a year ago but needed to beat Gahanna last week to make the postseason.
"I really haven't looked at them since we played them, but they're playing well," Phillips said. "We've been playing well; we just didn't get it done (against Grove City). We've got to be able to handle some adversity."
"The big motivation (against Gahanna) was just getting into the playoffs because this senior class didn't want to see our playoff streak end," said Basalyga, who started at linebacker as a freshman in the team's previous playoff meeting. "Even though not all of our starters got to play in the playoffs last year, they got to be around it. The atmosphere can be a shock to people. The Pickerington Central-Pickerington North game always has a playoff atmosphere."