Rather than slipping into mediocrity this season, the Pickerington High School Central football team kept a pair of successful streaks alive.
Trailing by 13 points entering the fourth quarter Sept. 21 at Reynoldsburg, the Tigers rallied for a 21-20 win in a game that was extended into the next morning because of a weather delay.
Then on Oct. 26 in its regular-season finale at Gahanna, Central got a 30-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Colby Simkins to senior Taco Charlton to help it win 28-23 and clinch its seventh consecutive playoff appearance. That same night, a loss by Pickerington North helped the Tigers extend their run of league championships to seven.
Those were the biggest highlights during a season in which Central had few returning senior starters and had juniors settle into key roles throughout the field.
"This is a season where we could have gone 5-5," said coach Jay Sharrett, who earned his 100th career victory when Central beat Groveport 44-7 on Oct. 19. "We only had a handful of seniors but they went out and won the OCC. This senior class doesn't have anything to hang its head about."
The Tigers finished 7-3 overall and tied Pickerington North for first in the OCC-Ohio Division at 6-1. Reynoldsburg (5-2), Gahanna and Grove City (4-3), Lancaster (2-5), Newark (1-6) and Groveport (0-7) rounded out the standings.
Central, which lost to visiting Pickerington North 37-0 on Sept. 28, got the fifth seed for the Division I, Region 3 playoffs and lost to the host Panthers 24-0 on Nov. 3 in a first-round game.
The Tigers lose 26 seniors, including a trio of first-team all-district selections in Greg Basalyga (RB/LB), Taco Charlton (TE/DL) and Nick Walter (OL/DL). Senior Brent Walton (RB/LB) was honorable mention all-district.
Each of those four players, along with senior Zach Gorman (OL/P), was first-team all-league. Senior James Pearson (LB) was honorable mention all-league.
Charlton, who has verbally committed to Michigan, had 104 tackles and 15 tackles for losses. He added a pair of touchdown receptions.
Basalyga had 116 tackles, including 13 for losses, and according to Sharrett is the only four-year starter in program history. He also rushed for 393 yards and five touchdowns.
Walter, who is a Miami University recruit, saw time at center and tackle and also was the long snapper.
Walton was the leading rusher with 631 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Senior Brenden Doyle was the leading receiver with 11 catches for 137 yards and one touchdown.
"There were definitely some positive things," Walter said. "We won our seventh consecutive OCC championship and we had a lot of juniors and sophomores get a lot of experience. Overall I thought our season was good."
Simkins threw for 916 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and junior Tawain Gordon was the second-leading rusher with 442 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior Cris Reyes had eight catches for 166 yards and one touchdown and sophomore Eric Marshall had eight receptions for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Andrew Meyer missed the first three games but finished with six catches for 191 yards and one score.
Marshall, Meyer, Reyes and Simkins made second-team all-league.
Junior Brendan Dudziak, who started at left tackle, and junior Tyler Boyd, who started at right guard, were special mention all-league. Junior Josh Clouse saw time at right tackle and center.
Juniors Isaiah Richmond (LB/DB), Jordan Pieczynski (DB) and Jae'Sean Tate (WR/DB) also contributed.
"We could have done better," Richmond said. "As a team we accomplished some of our goals, but we wanted to do more. We do have a lot of talent coming back. I think we should be pretty good next year."