The Hilliard Darby High School football team controls its own fate in the race for the OCC-Cardinal Division championship, but according to coach John Santagata, that doesn't make the task any easier.
The Panthers defeated Westerville South 52-17 on Oct. 11 to improve to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Cardinal and are riding a five-game winning streak. Their final three opponents have a combined record of 15-6.
Darby travels to Dublin Scioto on Friday, Oct. 18, before facing Westerville Central on Oct. 25 and Hilliard Bradley on Nov. 1. The Warhawks are 4-0 in league play and the Irish and Jaguars are both 3-1.
"We're in the middle of a gauntlet right now, so it's important that we remain focused for Dublin Scioto," Santagata said. "Dublin Scioto looks like another solid team, and we're getting used to playing good teams week in and week out in our league."
Scioto defeated Dublin Jerome 42-20 on Oct. 10 to improve to 5-2 overall and extend its winning streak to three games. The Irish, whose league loss came against Central (41-38 on Sept. 20), are averaging 33.1 points.
"It's a big game from the standpoint of computer points (for Division II, Region 5) and league standings," Scioto coach Karl Johnson said. "The winner of this game puts themselves in position for second place, but we'd love to get a win and see Westerville Central knock them off."
Scioto jumped out to a 21-0 lead against Jerome, as running back Nick Conner scored on runs of 4 and 1 yards. He also scored from his linebacker position, returning an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
Quarterback Nathan Densel enters the matchup with Darby with 1,382 yards passing, 315 yards rushing and a total of 13 touchdowns. His top receivers are Darius McDonald (36 catches, 351 yards, 3 TDs) and Dan Carney (17 catches, 268 yards).
McDonald also has 297 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 72 carries.
"They have a lot of good athletes and they've moved the ball well in the film that we've seen of them so far, so our defense needs to be prepared for another good week of preparation," Santagata said.
Despite having been shut out by Hilliard Davidson 21-0 on Sept. 6, Darby is averaging 32.6 points per game.
The Panthers' offense relies heavily on the run, as they are averaging 277.4 yards on the ground. Running back Lorenzo McLaurin has rushed for 485 yards and seven touchdowns on 105 carries and slotback Jacob Stacy has 293 yards and five touchdowns on 39 carries.
Quarterback Nate Green has rushed for 458 yards and seven touchdowns on 101 carries and has completed 31 of 48 passes for 470 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
"They're scoring a lot of points and they're a ball-control offense," Johnson said. "They don't make many mistakes and they execute their offense very well. Their defense will make you drive the ball."
Darby's defense, which includes lineman Brian Casey and linebackers Trevor Parker and Ben Radcliff, is holding opponents to an average of 10.3 points. In four games, the Panthers have held their opponents to seven points or fewer.