It had been a few months since his team had lost the Division I state championship game, but Pickerington High School Central football coach Jay Sharrett got a fresh reminder of the experience when his phone began ringing incessantly one morning last spring.

It had been a few months since his team had lost the Division I state championship game, but Pickerington High School Central football coach Jay Sharrett got a fresh reminder of the experience when his phone began ringing incessantly one morning last spring.

As part of a Columbus Dispatch story about the OHSAA's competitive balance proposal, Sharrett was told, he and a group of players from the Tigers' team were pictured on the front cover holding the state runner-up trophy.

It didn't make for a pleasant day.

"I only think about it about every 10 minutes," Sharrett said of last year's state final. "We've got an 0-2 record in state championship games, but there's a record that's worse than that, and that's 0-0. People don't know how hard it is to even get there."

Sharrett has attempted to keep things in perspective since last December, when the Tigers lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 34-13 in the state title game in Canton Fawcett Stadium.

In 2006 during what was Sharrett's fourth season as coach, the Tigers lost to Piqua 26-7 in the Division II state final.

The Tigers have had other teams during Sharrett's tenure, like the 2007 and '08 teams that went undefeated during the regular season, that he believes could have earned a state-title shot if only a few things had gone differently.

Figuring out how to cross the line between going deep into the postseason and capturing the championship is a complex mountain that few from central Ohio have been able to eclipse during the first 40 years of the state playoffs.

In addition to having talented players execute, a combination of good health, team unity, confidence and having the ability to overcome adversity all are part of the unique formula.

Things always have seemed to be an uphill battle for central Ohio in the state's biggest division, where the only teams to win championships since the state playoffs began in 1972 were Upper Arlington in 2000 and Hilliard Davidson in both 2006 and 2009.

The only other teams to even make appearances in the big-school state final in addition to Pickerington Central last season were Upper Arlington in 1974 and Gahanna in 1976, both in Class AAA, and Westerville South in 1994, in Division I.

"You never know if you're going to get there," Sharrett said. "It's about having an atmosphere that you don't want your season to end. Each senior class doesn't want it to end on their watch."

AN ELITE CLUB

When Hartley (Division IV) and Watterson (Division III) each won titles in 2010, it marked the fourth time since 2000 that at least two teams from the Central District were state champions in the same season.

That feat still has occurred only eight times in the playoff era, however, and just six current central Ohio head coaches have won at least one state championship.

The titles for Hartley and Watterson in 2010 were the first for Brad Burchfield and Dan Bjelac, respectively.

Brian White coached Hilliard Davidson to both of its titles and is the only current area coach to win two.

The others who have led their teams to championships are Bill Franks at Newark Catholic in 2007 (Division VI), Jim Collis at Columbus Academy in 2003 (Division V) and Mike Golden at Watterson in 2002 (Division III).

Sharrett and White remain in select company among area coaches who have coached in two state finals.

Golden, who now is Upper Arlington's coach, lost state championship games in both 1999 (Division III) and 2001 (Division II) at Watterson. Randy Baughman led Licking Valley to state runner-up finishes in both 2001 (Division IV) and 2007 (Division III).

Other central Ohio coaches who have lost state title games are Rocky Pentello at Westerville South in 1994 (Division I), John Magistro at Bellaire in 1995 (Division IV), Mark Crabtree at Fisher Catholic in 1998 (Division VI), Brian Cross at Canton McKinley in 2004 (Division I), Jim Miranda at Eastmoor Academy in 2008 (Division III) and Ryan Wiggins at DeSales in 2009 (Division III).

While Pentello, Miranda and Wiggins remain at the same school, Magistro is now at Westerville Central, Crabtree coaches Dublin Coffman and Cross is at Olentangy Orange.

Burchfield believes his team last season was one of a small handful in Division IV capable of capturing the title.

The Hawks won their first 11 games before falling 30-28 to Kenton, the eventual state runner-up, in the Region 14 championship game.

"I've had a couple teams that went pretty deep," Burchfield said. "Every week in the playoffs is kind of its own season. I think you could take four to eight teams every year that have a legitimate shot at the state title. I've spent my whole professional life thinking about this. We had a great shot to win the state championship last year and we were awful close at Centerburg in 2005 (but lost in a state semifinal). There's certainly no cookie-cutter procedure."

Golden has reached the playoffs in 16 of his 22 seasons as a head coach, including five of his seven years at Upper Arlington.

Although none of his teams at UA have made it past the regional semifinal round, he also coached New Albany to a Division IV regional runner-up finish in 2004 in addition to his success at Watterson.

The grind of an extended season is among the things that stand out from his deepest playoff runs.

"Remember, I lost two (state titles), too," Golden said. "It's an incredibly long season and it takes incredibly focused kids."

BUILDING A CHAMPION

The night before Davidson was to play for the 2006 state championship might have been as important as what transpired the next day when the Wildcats beat Mentor 36-35 in two overtimes for their first title.

According to J.B. Strahler, who was a senior linebacker on that team, White gave a few players a piece of paper with the name of a teammate.

Each player then was told to stand up and say a few words about the name of the player they were assigned.

It created a bond that Strahler hasn't forgotten.

"It was probably the most emotional thing I've ever been through," Strahler said. "You're best friends with these guys growing up and you have this love for the guys on your team."

Another former Davidson star, Spencer Delande, remembers a similar experience that occurred between him and some of his teammates the day before they beat Cleveland Glenville 16-15 in the 2009 state championship game.

Delande, who started at running back for the Wildcats in that game, was given the name of quarterback Jake Trubiano.

With 1:04 remaining in the state final, Delande scored on a 1-yard run and Trubiano ran in the two-point conversion to lead Davidson to the victory.

"We all started in seventh grade together and had a close bond with each other," Delande said. "We had some injuries that year but we'd get a new person in each week that did their job."

While creating team chemistry is something that coaches like Golden and Burchfield consider essential in creating championship teams, another indispensable factor has to do with believing it can win at the state's highest level.

"It takes a little bit of scheming and a little bit of dreaming," Burchfield said. "I think there has to be a mentality and a level of expectations that you can compete. From the very beginning, the expectation would be about competing for the state championship."

Every team, according to Golden, must have confidence that it can overcome adversity that's sure to come.

"You have to be incredibly lucky with injuries because it's a sport that you're going to have some injuries," Golden said. "You have to really believe you can get there. It's not some pie-in-the-sky thing but a reality. You have to make sure they understand that it's not an unreachable thing because it isn't. It's very doable, and once you get there it's all about matchups."

PRESSING AHEAD

Last season, Pickerington Central's biggest obstacles to becoming the state runner-up might have come during the season's first month.

The Tigers opened with back-to-back losses to Cincinnati Moeller (14-0) and Cincinnati St. Xavier (38-21).

The 0-2 start forced an all-hands-on-deck approach to the remainder of the regular season, and Central responded by edging Pickerington North 24-21 in week four and winning its final seven to earn the second seed for the Region 3 playoffs.

Sense of urgency aside, the Tigers' propensity for playing tough defense almost was enough to ensure a long playoff run.

With a group of nine senior starters that included Division I recruits such as Adam Clopton (Duquesne), Jake Kincaid (Kent State) and Sebastian Smith (Ohio), Central shut out three of its final four regular-season opponents.

The Tigers then blasted Dublin Coffman (55-14) and Gahanna (41-10) in their first two playoff games before shutting out two-time regional champion Hilliard Davidson 24-0 in the Region 3 final.

Central avenged its loss to St. Xavier with a 14-7 win in a state semifinal to set up the matchup against St. Ignatius.

Although St. Ignatius has won 11 titles in the last 24 years, Central's downfall in the state final was not due to an inferiority complex, according to senior Taco Charlton.

"Basically I remember how together we were and when you're close, you're going to fight until the end," Charlton said. "After we lost our first two games, we had to sit down and talk to each other. We had to come together as a family. All of the coaches were saying that we couldn't lose another game if we wanted to make the playoffs, and especially the seniors didn't want to go out like that.

"We knew we had the talent. They were a good team, but our team felt like we were more talented and could have won it. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder this year and want to get the bad taste out of our mouths."

St. Ignatius also ended the hopes of another of the best playoff-era teams from central Ohio when it beat Westerville South 20-3 in the 1994 Division I state final.

With a roster led by players like linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, who went on to play for Ohio State and in the NFL, Pentello remembers the 1994 team as a "close-knit group that spent time fishing and hunting together."

Pentello, who has coached the Wildcats to seven playoff appearances since that time but has yet to reach another title game, still hangs onto the dream that he can get back to that level.

"It gets harder every year and it's really rare to get (to the state championship game)," Pentello said. "You've got to do what you do best and stick with that. What I learned in that game is that championships aren't as important as helping the kids be better people. It's about commitment, sacrifice, faith and dedication."