Pickerington High School Central football coach Jay Sharrett was hoping his defense could slow down Hilliard Davidson’s ball-control offense in the Division I, Region 3 final on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Ohio Wesleyan University.
But Sharrett never would have dreamed the Tigers would hold the Wildcats to 109 total yards and only five first downs en route to a 24-0 victory.
Central, which improved to 10-2, will meet Cincinnati St. Xavier in a state semifinal on Nov. 26 at a site to be determined. St. Xavier defeated the Tigers 38-21 on Sept. 4.
“I was just hoping we had enough defense to slow them enough for us to win, but I didn’t know that we would shut them out,” Sharrett said. “The biggest factor was we tackled very well, and that’s what you have to do against them because they’ll make you pay if you miss anything.”
The Wildcats rushed for just 101 yards on 34 carries, including 34 yards on 16 carries and only one first down in the first half.
The Tigers rotated between three-, four-, five- and even six-player defensive fronts and loaded the box to clog up inside running lanes.
Central swarmed to Davidson running back Alex Mickley on every play, daring the Wildcats to throw or try to beat the Tigers with another skill player.
Mickley finished with 50 yards rushing on 23 carries.
“We thought we had to keep them off balance, so we played four different defenses and switched them up a little bit each time,” Central defensive coordinator Jeff Lomonico said. “We wanted to take away (Mickley) because he’s their biggest weapon, and our front line played great. Hilliard Davidson comes off the ball so hard, but our front line hung with them all night.
“And Marcus Milton did a great job of covering their wide (receiver) all night. It’s tough to keep covering someone when you know they’re only going to throw it to him once a game, but if you leave him open that one time, it can lead to a touchdown.”
Davidson is known for putting together long, time-consuming drives, but Central held the advantage in time of possession, 38 minutes, 35 seconds to 21:25.
“We put together some nice drives of our own to keep the ball out of their hands for long periods of time, and Nick Ellis punted the ball very well to keep them out of good field position for most of the night,” Sharrett said.
Davidson quarterback Brandon Gleim was 1-for-4 passing for 8 yards and was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter.
Sebastian Smith made a one-handed interception at Central’s 17-yard line to end Davidson’s best drive, and Adam Clopton returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-0 with 2:18 remaining.
Afterward, Davidson coach Brian White said Central’s defense is, by far, the best the Wildcats faced this season.
“Their big guys up front are strong and hard to move off the ball,” White said. “When you try to run on the perimeter, their linebacker and backs are too quick. Absolutely, they’re the best defense we’ve seen.”
The Tigers’ defense was penalized only once for 5 yards through three quarters before emotions boiled over during the fourth quarter, when each team was flagged six times for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike misconduct.
“Our coaches preached to us all week that we needed to play physical football but stay disciplined because we gave them some key first downs on penalties when they beat us (13-6 in the regional final in 2010),” Central defensive end Taco Charlton said. “We made them earn every yard they gained until the game was pretty much over.”