When members of the Westerville Central High School football team began preparation for the season last summer, they set a major goal.
The Warhawks not only wanted to qualify for the playoffs, they wanted to contend for a state title.
Central will continue that pursuit Saturday, Nov. 16, when it faces undefeated Austintown Fitch in a Division I, Region 1 second-round game at Arlin Field in Mansfield.
"These guys have a goal," coach John Magistro said. "We go along every week with a pecking order. We knock this goal out. Ultimately, our goal is the state championship. It's never been anything less than that."
Seeded fifth in the region, Central defeated 12th-seeded Solon 55-7 in the first round Nov. 9 at home to improve to 10-1. That same day, fourth-seeded Fitch beat 13th-seeded Marysville 31-21 to improve to 11-0.
The second-round winner will play top-seeded Lakewood St. Edward (9-1) or ninth-seeded Cleveland Heights (10-1) in a regional semifinal Nov. 23 at a site to be determined.
"Every team's goal at the beginning of the year is to try and win a state championship, and for us to still be in the hunt for one and still chasing one down is huge," senior quarterback Jared Drake said. "We have to continue to motivate the guys on the team to work harder every day, and it's definitely a great feeling for us and the school that the football program is doing this well."
In its second postseason appearance, Central posted its first playoff win against Solon, which finished 6-5. The Warhawks lost to Gahanna 38-21 in the first round of the Division I playoffs in 2011.
Fitch qualified for the postseason for the third time in the last four years and seventh overall.
"Westerville Central is a tremendous football team, absolutely outstanding," said Falcons coach Phil Annarella, who owns a career record of 211-126-3, including a 48-26 mark in seven seasons at Fitch. "They will be the toughest game we've played this year. They're tremendously talented and we're hoping we can make it a ballgame."
Fitch employs a spread offense but relies heavily on its running game.
"They're a fast team, that's for sure," Drake said. "They're quick. You can't tell how big kids are on film accurately. But what they (might) lack in size, they make up for in speed and athleticism. They're definitely an athletic team. They play good coverage."
Running back Darrin Hall (6-foot-1, 203 pounds) is the Falcons' leading rusher with 1,325 yards and 12 touchdowns on 127 carries. He injured a shoulder during the second quarter against Marysville and did not return. Earlier this week, his status for the second-round game was uncertain.
Quarterback Antwan Harris (5-10, 195) ran for 188 yards on 22 carries against Marysville. For the season, he has rushed for 1,276 yards and 17 touchdowns on 153 carries and has completed 33 of 68 passes for 355 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
"Their quarterback is a weapon," Magistro said. "Their running back is definitely a difference (maker). When he's in there, they have a two-back threat. If you're going with one back, they'll counter back the other way and, when (Harris) wants to throw the ball, he can throw it. He has an arm."
The Falcons' leading receiver is Joey Harrington (6-0, 150), who has 17 catches for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
Magistro, who enters the game against Fitch with a 213-96 career record, said he sees similarities between the Falcons' spread offense and that of Hilliard Darby, which the Warhawks defeated 35-21 on Oct. 25.
According to Magistro, Fitch utilizes an aggressive 3-3-5 base defense.
"Defensively, they're sound," he said. "They blitz like crazy. They sort of remind you of (Westerville) South a little bit where they're always sending guys, always blitzing."
Led by Drake, Central, which defeated South 54-35 on Oct. 17, employs a spread offense that relies more on its passing game.
Drake has completed 158 of 236 passes for 2,637 yards with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions and has rushed for 711 yards and nine scores on 122 carries.
Senior running back Alex Fisher has rushed for 703 yards and 15 touchdowns on 111 carries and sophomore running back Justin Head has 508 yards rushing and nine scores on 39 carries. Sophomore wide receiver Cedric Frierson has a team-high 36 catches for 743 yards and nine touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Adam Lowe leads the Warhawks' defense in tackles with 84.