A game-changing sequence during the final minute of the first half and the big-play abilities of senior defensive back Nygel Hairston helped the Pickerington High School Central football team escape an upset bid by visiting Lancaster on the opening night of OCC-Ohio Division play Sept. 14.
Led by Hairston, who had two interceptions and a fumble recovery, the five-time defending league champion Tigers took advantage of five turnovers by the Golden Gales and won 14-10 to improve to 2-1 overall.
Lancaster couldn’t cash in on three Central turnovers and fell to 1-3.
On the Gales’ final possession, quarterback Riley Theiss hit Ryan Thomas for a 27-yard reception with 1 minute, 1 second remaining. He was intercepted by Hairston while trying to again throw to Thomas on the next play near midfield.
“I knew they were going to go to their best target,” Hairston said of Thomas, who is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound tight end. “I saw it coming and I had to go get it. We were on the field for a long time, but we made a couple big stops.”
Central, which won for the third consecutive season over Lancaster, appeared on its way to taking a 7-3 lead into halftime when Hairston intercepted Theiss with 42.9 seconds to go in the second quarter. He returned it 35 yards to the Lancaster 38.
Two plays later, quarterback Colby Simkins connected with Brenden Doyle for a 26-yard touchdown pass that made it 14-3.
Brent Walton, who led the Tigers with 63 yards rushing on 14 attempts, had fumbled on the play before Hairston’s interception.
“(The touchdown pass) was huge,” Doyle said. “Coach called the play and I came up to the call.”
“We’re not going to score 40 points on Lancaster,” Central coach Jay Sharrett said. “We tightened up in the red zone when we needed to and that was the difference in the ballgame. Tonight was a total team effort.”
Central scored its other first-half touchdown on a 28-yard run by Greg Basalyga with 8:59 to go in the opening quarter.
Simkins completed five of 14 passes for 69 yards with two interceptions and Basalyga rushed for 52 yards.
Isaiah Dexter led Lancaster with 94 yards on 21 carries.
“They were on the ropes and Isaiah was running the ball well,” Lancaster coach Rob Carpenter said. “They were kind of breathing hard. It’s always great games between us.”
PC--Basalyga 28 run (McMillin kick)
L--Daugherty 27 FG
PC--Doyle 26 pass from Simkins (McMillin kick)
L--Dexter 7 run (Daugherty kick)