Pickerington North to face Hilliard Davidson in region final
The most obvious feature in the game plans of the Hilliard Davidson and Pickerington North high school football teams entering their Division I, Region 3 final is North must devise an answer for Davidson's two-back option offense.
The uncertainty in the matchup is how Davidson decides to defend North's balanced offense.
Twice this season the Wildcats faced Dublin Coffman, which featured a quarterback in James Walsh who threw for 2,038 yards and a running back in Bilal Williamson who rushed for 1,402 yards.
Although Davidson lost to the Shamrocks 33-10 on Sept. 14, it neutralized Coffman in a 17-14 win in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 3.
North has one of the state's top running backs in senior Godwin Igwebuike, a Northwestern recruit who has rushed for 1,733 yards and 23 touchdowns. He recently was named district Offensive Player of the Year.
The Panthers also have a difficult player to contend with in senior Jake Butt, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound Michigan recruit who has 58 catches for 767 yards and 12 touchdowns. He lined up at wide receiver during most of North's 24-14 regional-semifinal win over Hilliard Darby on Nov. 10 at Gahanna, but also sees time at tight end.
The seventh-seeded Wildcats, who are 10-2, will meet the fourth-seeded Panthers, who are 11-1, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Ohio Wesleyan University. The winner plays Cincinnati Colerain or Cincinnati Moeller in a state semifinal Nov. 24 at a site to be announced.
"The more balanced teams are the more difficult ones because if you try to stop both the run and the pass, sometimes you can't stop either," Davidson coach Brian White said. "We try to limit teams' success running the ball. I don't think a lot of teams have been able to stop (Igwebuike), but you have to be able to contain him. Every game he has at least one long run."
Igwebuike had 139 yards rushing on 20 carries against Darby, and that included a 63-yard third-quarter touchdown. Butt had six catches for 60 yards and two scores, and quarterback Mason Olszewski was 13-for-16 passing for 96 yards.
The offensive line of North features senior Grant Glackin, a special mention all-district selection, and classmate Chris Huhn, a Western Kentucky recruit who missed the first five games but has been a key contributor since.
Davidson's defensive line counters with junior Alex Backenstoe, a second-team all-district selection who had 11 tackles for losses during the regular season, and senior Nick Wright, who starts on both the offensive and defensive lines.
"Davidson's got a great tradition and they've been to state a (couple) times," Igwebuike said.
"This year they started out slow but picked it up. We respect them."
Led by a clock-eating offense that features running backs E.J. Jennings and D.D. Clark and quarterback Nick Waters, Davidson has won eight in a row since splitting its first four games.
"Obviously our main offense is power with E.J., but the triple option gives us different looks and gives different people the ball," Waters said.
The Wildcats are making their fifth consecutive appearance in a regional final after beating Olentangy 29-14 in a regional semifinal Nov. 10 at Upper Arlington.
Jennings, a first-team all-district selection, rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats finished with 321 yards on 53 carries.
Although Davidson didn't attempt a pass, it marked another positive experience at quarterback for Waters, who took over the position in the second half of the regular-season finale, a 14-7 win over Marysville on Oct. 26.
Jennings has rushed for 1,555 yards and Clark has 755 yards rushing. Waters rushed for 59 yards in the playoff win over Coffman and 65 yards against Olentangy.
Phillipie Motley had a 90-yard first-quarter touchdown run and blocked a field goal against Olentangy.
Davidson's offensive line features first-team all-district selection Jared Johns as well as Jonathan Browning and Wright. They will face a North defense that has improved its play against the run in recent weeks.
Butt (DL/LB), Igwebuike (DB), Dylan Weigel (LB), Geno Rollo (DL) and Roland Ladipo (DB) are among the key players on defense for the Panthers.
"You've got to do what your team is doing best," North coach Tom Phillips said.
"We know what (Davidson does) and I'm sure they're going to do what they do and we've got to do what we do."