The final play of the third quarter in the Division I, Region 3 playoff opener between the host Pickerington High School North football team and Pickerington Central on Nov. 3 was one that Panthers senior tight end Jake Butt had been lobbying for all night.
Leading by 10 points, the Panthers elected to punt on fourth-and-3 from the Tigers' 39-yard line but got the ball back with an automatic first down after Central was penalized for an illegal block.
Quarterback Mason Olszewski then hit Butt on a 29-yard touchdown pass to extend North's lead to 17 points on the way to a 24-0 victory.
The Panthers, who are seeded fourth in the region, improved to 10-1 and advanced to a regional semifinal against top-seeded Hilliard Darby on Saturday, Nov. 10, at a site to be determined. Central, the fifth seed, finished 7-3.
Darby improved to 11-0 with a 31-10 win over eighth-seeded Westerville South on Nov. 3.
“It’s called a hitch-and-go, and he threw me the perfect pass,” said Butt, who had five catches for 122 yards. “I’d been seeing that the play was open throughout the entire game.”
“Jake Butt called that play,” North coach Tom Phillips said. “He saw it and I said, ‘Just be patient.’”
Even though the Panthers' offense found the end zone three times, it was their defense that carried them throughout much of what became their first playoff victory in program history.
North limited Tigers quarterback Colby Simkins to 4-for-20 passing for 40 yards with two interceptions, including one that was returned 16 yards for a touchdown by Warren Stoddard with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining.
Panthers running back and defensive back Godwin Igwebuike rushed for 95 yards on 24 carries and knocked down several passes on defense. He also intercepted Simkins in the second quarter.
“They’re a good football team and offensively it was tough to get anything going against them,” Central coach Jay Sharrett said.
North, which beat Central 37-0 in an OCC-Ohio Division game on Sept. 28 for its first victory in the series, finished with 278 yards of offense and held the Tigers to just 93 total yards.
Olszewski hit Tanner Gillum for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 6:31 to go in the second quarter and finished 10-for-16 passing for 196 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Gillum also had a touchdown reception in the regular-season win over the Tigers.
“It was the same route I scored on the first time we played them,” Gillum said. “This is such a big win for our program with it being our first playoff win. It feels amazing.”
PN--Gillum 9 pass from Olszewski (Holland kick)
PN--Holland 29 FG
PN--Butt 29 pass from Olszewski (Holland kick)
PN--Stoddard 16 interception return (Holland kick)