As his team prepared for its OCC-Ohio Division opener Sept. 20 at Newark, Pickerington High School North football coach Tom Phillips sat down with his assistant coaches and players for a time of reflection and evaluation.
The focus wasn't on the team's perfect start but on how the Panthers must improve once they hit the toughest portion of their league schedule.
It's something he calls "refinement."
"We played well through the first three games, but it's not the way to win a championship," Phillips said.
North's biggest issues might have been exposed during a 60-27 victory Sept. 13 over Fremont Ross in which it tied for the second-most points in program history.
The Panthers had nearly 200 yards in penalties and were inconsistent on offense until they scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
North used the momentum from that victory to blow out Newark 45-0.
The Panthers are 4-0 as they prepare to play host Friday, Sept. 27, to Lancaster, which is 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the league.
Senior quarterback Zeph Miller is 45-for-70 passing for 600 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.
Senior running back Jabree Lather has 39 carries for 257 yards and four touchdowns and senior Brett Howell has 33 carries for 184 yards.
Junior Jaye Williams has 10 catches for 148 yards and senior Chris McDowell has 11 receptions for 162 yards.
Senior Tony Welch has two touchdown catches and one rushing touchdown and has been a standout on defense in the secondary, according to Phillips.
"(Welch is) being used on both sides of the ball and his role is big on both sides of the ball," Phillips said.
North has won the last four matchups against Lancaster, which features a run-first approach and is led by senior two-way lineman and Ohio State recruit Kyle Trout.
The Golden Gales were held to 124 yards rushing in a 27-12 loss to Pickerington Central on Sept. 20.
"You can never take your guard down based on another team's record," Phillips said. "We've got six more games to evaluate ourselves, and then it'll be down to five and then to four."
Central out to extend streak over Raiders
Central snapped a four-game losing skid at Lancaster when it beat the Gales 21-0 in 2011. The Tigers then made it two in a row on the road over Lancaster on Sept. 20.
On Friday, Sept. 27, Central will try to add to an 11-game winning streak over Reynoldsburg when it plays host to the Raiders.
The Tigers, who are 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the league, began a three-game stretch last week that coach Jay Sharrett believes will challenge his team.
Following Reynoldsburg on the schedule is a game Oct. 4 at Pickerington North.
"Our (league) schedule is very front-end loaded with Lancaster, Reynoldsburg and then Pickerington North," Sharrett said. "These are some teams that are in the league race year in, year out."
Lancaster represented a third consecutive run-first opponent for the Tigers, who gave up 381 yards rushing in a 38-33 loss to Centerville on Aug. 30 and controlled Middletown's triple-option offense in a 39-14 win Sept. 13.
Against Lancaster, Central's defense recovered two fumbles and intercepted one pass.
Reynoldsburg improved to 3-1 by beating Grove City 21-10 on Sept. 20.
The Raiders got a program-record 323 yards rushing from senior running back David Moore in a 33-21 win over Hilliard Bradley on Sept. 5, and he rushed for 170 yards and one score against Grove City. Senior running back Zack Mehan also has proven to be an effective rusher for Reynoldsburg.
Senior Isaiah Richmond (RB/DB) leads the Central defense and also scored two rushing touchdowns and one receiving against Middletown.
Tigers quarterback Colby Simkins passed for 104 yards and rushed for 128 yards and one touchdown against Lancaster, as Central had 358 yards of offense.
Central has played all season without senior wide receiver Andrew Meyer. Junior Eric Marshall and seniors Vinnie Allen and Rudy Stefanitsis have seen action in his absence.
Meyer could return during the season's second half.