Tigers evolving, but still not in class of St. Ignatius
CANTON -- It’s tough to sum up a season based on the result of one game.
That was the assessment of Pickerington High School Central football coach Jay Sharrett after his team’s 34-13 loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius in the Division I state championship game Saturday, Dec. 3, in Canton Fawcett Stadium.
Just as difficult, according to Wildcats coach Chuck Kyle, is assessing what has made his program the most dominant one in the state since the beginning of the playoff era in 1972.
Both are worth pondering for a Tigers team that came within one win of reaching the pinnacle of its sport this season.
In what should go down in Ohio lore as one of its more memorable comeback stories, the Tigers began the season 0-2 but won their next 11 to advance to their second championship game in six seasons.
Once in the final, Central dug a 20-0 hole that included a turnover that led to a field goal, a series of untimely penalties and a dropped interception that could have prevented another score.
Back against the wall that the Tigers seemingly had been on all year, they responded with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns to rally within 20-13 and were on the verge of tying it when another drive stalled at the St. Ignatius 16.
The Wildcats returned to form in the third quarter by turning another Central turnover into a touchdown to help them reclaim a comfortable lead.
However, the second-quarter flurry by the Tigers that included three completions of at least 15 yards, including a 75-yard score by Sebastian Smith, proved that Central stands toe-to-toe with St. Ignatius — or any other team in the state — in the area of athleticism.
This is the same Wildcats team that under Kyle won its 11th state championship, all since 1988.
Kyle has guided St. Ignatius to a 287-67-1 record that includes a remarkable 60-12 mark in the playoffs.
If anyone would know what the formula is for winning the championship, it would be Kyle — right?
Sharrett acknowledged that going against a veteran staff such as Kyle’s meant his opponent wouldn’t “get rattled” and would “go from plan B to plan C.”
Kyle admitted that it’s tough to gauge what has made his teams so successful over the years. It’s a year-by-year process for him, and he believes he’ll get to reflect on what has brought so much success sometime down the road.
The Wildcats always have among the most supreme athletes throughout northeast Ohio, and the coaching Kyle and his staff provide year after year certainly is a benefit that most don’t have.
Still, there’s something special about the product Sharrett and his staff have put together as well.
In 2006, which was just the fourth season after the split into two Pickerington high schools, Central advanced to the Division II state final. The Tigers lost to Piqua 26-7 in Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium to finish 13-2.
Central, which also was a state semifinalist in 2008, avenged a regular-season loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier by winning 14-7 on Nov. 26 in a state semifinal and is now 22-12 in the playoffs.
The most obvious downfall the Tigers had during their state final loss to St. Ignatius had to do with execution on a few particular plays.
While the three turnovers and nine penalties by Central stand out, there also were a few pass attempts that seemed to fall barely incomplete.
The positive side of that scenario is that the Tigers are closer than ever before.
That should be enough to fuel a program that should continue to produce the caliber of athletes and has the coaching experience to eventually win at the state’s highest level.