CANTON -- The Pickerington High School Central football team’s defense was dominant through its first four playoff games, allowing an average of fewer than eight points per contest.
But Central finally ran into an opponent that was more than its match in the Division I state final on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Fawcett Stadium, as the Tigers gave up a season-high 431 yards in a 34-13 loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius.
The state title is the 11th in the past 24 seasons for the Wildcats, who finished 13-2.
The Tigers, who were appearing in their first Division I state final, saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end and finished 11-3.
“They’re definitely the best we’ve seen,” Central coach Jay Sharrett said of St. Ignatius. “We had difficulty getting to their quarterback and he was comfortable sitting back in the pocket or stepping up to find his receivers when we flushed him out of the pocket.
“When we can’t get to the quarterback, you’ve got to tip your hat to them right there.”
St. Ignatius quarterback Eric Williams completed 19 of 31 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns.
“Early on in the week, coach (Chuck Kyle) designed pass routes specifically for their defense to pick at their holes, and we executed it,” Williams said.
Running back Tim McVey also had a big game for the Wildcats, rushing for 107 yards and two scores on 24 carries.
“Tim is a throwback,” Kyle said. “He has the speed to break big plays, but when he has to run people over, he’s ready to bring it on.”
The Wildcats jumped out to a 10-0 midway through the first quarter.
On the first play of their second possession, wide receiver Tim McCoy ran past Central’s defense and hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Williams.
Three plays later, Tigers running back Devone Penick fumbled and the Wildcats' Adam North recovered the ball at the Central 22-yard line, setting up a 31-yard field goal by Tim Shenk.
A costly defensive error by Central led to a 43-yard field goal by Shenk on the Wildcats’ next possession.
With St. Ignatius lining up to punt on fourth-and-2 from Central’s 46, the Tigers were flagged for an illegal substitution, giving the Wildcats a first down.
“They exploited a lot of our weaknesses,” Central wide receiver/place kicker Jake Raymond said. “They’re a good team. They didn’t make many mistakes and they capitalized on our mistakes.”
In the second quarter, St. Ignatius put together a seven-play, 91-yard drive that featured a 49-yard pass from Williams to Conor Hennessey and was capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by McVey.
“We knew their defense was going to bring pressure, and we felt we had to throw the ball effectively because it’s very difficult to run on (Central),” Kyle said. “They came from a four-man front and a three-man front and we adjusted our protection to a read combination. Their blitzes are difficult to handle, so we spent a lot of time working on those protections all week.”
Central’s offense came alive in the second quarter, as the Tigers rallied to pull within 20-13.
After having just two first downs and 55 total yards in the first quarter, the Tigers had 151 passing yards in the second quarter.
Central scored with 6 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the first half when quarterback Nick Jensen-Clagg completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Roger Lewis.
The Tigers struck again on their next possession, as Sebastian Smith took a screen pass from Jensen-Clagg and ran 75 yards down the right sideline for a score to cut Central’s deficit to seven points heading into halftime.
Smith’s touchdown was set up by a block downfield by running back Billy Eakins.
“We stabilized their blitz game and had a couple good plays that went for touchdowns,” Sharrett said. “We were close on a couple of other plays, but we couldn’t quite get them.
“We needed to hit a couple longer touchdowns because that’s not a team that you can drive 80 or 90 yards on consistently.”
The Wildcats regained momentum early in the third quarter when Jensen-Clagg pitched the ball a bit out of Eakins’ reach and St. Ignatius safety Zach Baker recovered it at Central’s 28.
Six plays later, McVey scored on a 1-yard run to make it 27-13.
“We didn’t take care of the ball when we needed to,” Sharrett said. “We knew we needed to play a near-perfect game and we made some mistakes with turnovers and penalties.”
Central drove to St. Ignatius’ 30 midway through the fourth quarter, but on fourth-and-10, Eakins was stopped a yard short of a first down.
St. Ignatius scored on the ensuing possession, driving 70 yards on seven plays. Williams tossed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Jake Mooney to give the Wildcats a 34-13 lead and effectively seal the outcome with 3:50 remaining.
“Give credit to Pickerington Central because they didn’t give up and they took the momentum in the second quarter,” Kyle said. “But I’m proud of how our guys came back in the second half and got the momentum back with some big plays on both sides of the ball.”
Mooney finished with seven catches for 79 yards and Hennessey had four catches for 103 yards.
Jensen-Clagg was 21-for-38 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith had four catches for 141 yards and had 7.5 tackles. Raymond had eight catches for 64 yards, and Marcus Milton had 8.5 tackles.
Central was held to 22 yards rushing on 25 carries and had three turnovers.
PICKERINGTON CENTRAL 0 13 0 0 -- 13
CLEVELAND ST. IGNATIUS 13 7 7 7 -- 34
CSI--McCoy 45 pass from Williams (Shenk kick)
CSI--Shenk 31 FG
CSI--Shenk 43 FG
CSI--McVey 8 run (Shenk kick)
PC--Lewis 15 pass from Jensen-Clagg (Raymond kick)
PC--Smith 75 pass from Jensen-Clagg (kick failed)
CSI--McVey 1 run (Shenk kick)
CSI--Mooney 40 pass from Williams (Shenk kick)