For the first time in three years, the Pickerington High School Central football team actually has something tangible to play for in the regular-season finals.

For the first time in three years, the Pickerington High School Central football team actually has something tangible to play for in the regular-season finals.

In each of the past two seasons, Central has had at least a share of the league title wrapped up by this point. Central will need a victory over visiting Reynoldsburg on Friday to ensure at least a share of the OCC-Ohio Division title.

Central and Lancaster are tied atop the league at 4-1.

"Our guys are looking at week 10 and this is an important game for us," Central coach Jay Sharrett said. "We're looking to continue to play well and getting a piece of the OCC title."

Reynoldsburg is playing for nothing but pride.

The Raiders are looking to follow up the season's best performance with another win. The Raiders defeated Gahanna 46-23 last Friday and did it with a dominating rushing attack.

Running back Dominique Walker carried the ball 28 times for 218 yards and two touchdowns.

Midway through the season, Reynoldsburg running back Derrick Goliday was injured and Walker has taken over and hasn't looked back.

Quarterback J.C. Gibson threw two touchdown passes to Gabriel Nimmons, but he also did most of his damage in the running game.

Reynoldsburg, which runs the I-formation, will mix in occasional midline plays from the option scheme they used heavily last year.

Sharrett said the key to stopping Reynoldsburg's rushing attack is going to be tackling better than Gahanna did last Friday.

"Reynoldsburg's backs are hard to tackle," Sharrett said. "And they did a good job (against Gahanna) of blocking and sealing. We're going to have to make sure when we play the run, we tackle well."

Evans said Central's defense looks every bit as good as Coffman's, which the Raiders saw firsthand in a 37-0 loss to the Shamrocks on Sept. 18.

One point Reynoldsburg coaches are using during practice this week was letting the team know it has already seen defenses as tough as Central's this season in Coffman and Cleveland Glenville, which defeated Reynoldsburg 35-14 on Sept. 4.

Against a defense like Central's, running to the outside is futile, Evans said. The Raiders are going to look to pound the ball inside.

Central's defense is considered a multiple-front, but many times the Tigers will go into a 3-5 look and take a defensive lineman off the field in favor of a linebacker or defensive back.

That strategy makes the Tigers quicker and more athletic on defense, but tReynoldsburg is hoping that it also makes Central softer at the point of attack.

"You have to try to line up and go at them," Evans said. "They're going to try to make you run sideline to sideline. You can't run sideline to sideline and let their athleticism take over."

Leading an athletic linebacker unit are brothers Willie and Wuan Tatum. Eilar Hardy, Josh Kristoff and Malcolm Pannell attack from their defensive back positions.

Willie Tatum has verbally committed to Minnesota and Pannell has verbally committed to Ohio.

It's a defense that has posted four consecutive shutouts since the Tigers scored a late touchdown to defeat Pickerington North 7-6 on Sept. 25. North's points came on two field goals. The scoreless streak is 17 quarters.

Central is also averaging 44 points per contest since facing North.

"We're starting to get guys healthy again from injury and the flu and what goes on in the middle of a season" said Sharrett, whose team is third in the OHSAA computer ratings. "Things are lining up. We're clicking at times when maybe other teams are starting to slow down."

Central's offense has become a dual quarterback system with Grant Hammond and Nick Jensen-Clagg each seeing time. Sharrett said the decision on which one plays is based on the personnel grouping that is in the game.

Pannell is the top receiving target with Tyler Hammond as the featured running back. Hammond's main asset is his speed, but he'll run with a little more power than what Reynoldsburg faced last Friday in Gahanna's Earl Cunningham.

Reynoldsburg held Cunningham to 50 yards rushing, all of which came on one play.

"I don't think he has the shiftiness or the elusiveness (of Cunningham), but as far as the speed goes, he's just as dangerous," Evans said. "They do a good job using that to their advantage."

Reynoldsburg's defense is led by a pair of Division I prospects in lineman Roosevelt Nix, who has drawn interested from several Division I schools, and defensive back Devon McKoy, who is going to play at Bowling Green.

Also leading the defense is Brandon Mitchell in the secondary and Manny Webb along the front.

"The biggest things we have to carry into (Friday's game) is confidence," Evans said. "We did a pretty good job of not turning the football over (against Gahanna) and we were able to answer when they did something."



Next game

REYNOLDSBURG at CENTRAL

•When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

•Last meeting: 2003, Central 35-17

•Reynoldsburg (2-7, 2-3 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Lost to Dublin Jerome 16-6; lost to Cleveland Glenville 35-14; lost to Watterson 16-14; lost to Dublin Coffman 37-0; defeated Newark 47-0; lost to Pickerington North 17-7; lost to Lancaster 15-7; lost to Groveport 33-0; def. Gahanna 46-23

•Central (8-1 overall, 5-1 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Def. Orange Lutheran (Calif.) 28-14; def. Springfield 28-19; def. Westerville North 28-0; lost to Lancaster 17-14; def. Pickerington North 7-6; def. Gahanna 42-0; def. Groveport 20-0; def. Newark 67-0; def. Hilliard Darby 48-0

•Top Raiders: Darien Bryant (TE/LB), J.C. Gibson (QB), Devon McKoy (DB), Roosevelt Nix (DL) and Dominique Walker (RB)

•Top Tigers: Tamani Carter (DB), Grant Hammond (QB), Tyler Hammond (RB), Eilar Hardy (DB), Josh Kristoff (DB), Malcolm Pannell (DB/WR), Willie Tatum (LB/RB) and Wuan Tatum (LB)