Panthers (10-1) Wildcats (11-0)
Since the beginning of the 2012 season, the Hilliard Davidson and Pickerington North high school football teams have combined to go 43-6, including just one loss between them this fall.
Neither the Wildcats nor Panthers, though, are forgetting what got them to this point -- and that includes remembering some of the failures along the way.
Davidson enters its matchup against North at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Gahanna with an 11-0 record, with its last loss coming 21-0 to the Panthers in last year's Division I, Region 3 final.
In that game, the Wildcats' No. 1 running back, 2013 graduate E.J. Jennings, was neutralized by a foot injury and held to 41 yards.
While the Wildcats earned the top seed for this year's Division I, Region 2 playoffs, eighth-seeded North is 10-1 but showed a vulnerability on defense when it lost to Grove City 34-24 on Nov. 1.
The Panthers would like nothing more than to prove their defense should be remembered for allowing an average of 11 points during the first nine games rather than for giving up 318 yards rushing against the Dawgs.
"We had one bad run defense game all year, and that was against Grove City," North coach Tom Phillips said. "That was not us. We were dealing with some sickness that night and I don't want to hold that against our defense because our defense has been pretty tough all year."
The Panthers' defensive front, which includes linebacker Dylan Weigel, tackles Geno Rollo and Alex Reigle and end Frankie Weirick as returnees from a year ago, again will try to match Davidson's triple-option offense.
Senior quarterback Nick Iske makes the decisions and senior running back D.D. Clark has rushed for 1,643 yards and 18 touchdowns behind an offensive line led by senior Jared Johns.
On Nov. 9, the Wildcats opened the postseason by beating Miamisburg 48-7 and North defeated Fairfield 20-10 in first-round home games. The Davidson-North winner will play 13th-seeded Dublin Coffman or fifth-seeded Huber Heights Wayne on Nov. 23 in a regional semifinal.
"I still look at Pickerington North as the best team in the region," Davidson coach Brian White said. "They're fantastic on defense. With E.J. having a broken foot last year, it put us behind the eight-ball. Hopefully we've closed the gap since then. I don't know if we've controlled the line of scrimmage, but we've opened up the holes."
North is averaging 35 points but has a new look compared to a year ago when future college players Godwin Igwebuike (RB, Northwestern), Jake Butt (TE, Michigan) and Mason Olszewski (QB, Charleston) led the way.
Senior quarterback Zeph Miller didn't play against Grove City because of illness. Against Fairfield, he fumbled five times out of the shotgun but completed 14 of 27 passes for 236 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 68 yards and one score. He has thrown for 1,811 yards with 18 touchdowns and leads in rushing with 753 yards and 15 scores.
Senior Jabree Lather (651 yards) and junior Brett Howell (464 yards) at running back and junior Jaye Williams (34 catches) and senior Chris McDowell (28 catches) at wide receiver have complemented Miller.
That group will be challenged by a Davidson defense that gives up 9.1 points per game and is led by Nick Stull and Parker Foard in the secondary, Markus Bailey at linebacker and Alex Backenstoe and Brett Annis on the line.
"It's not necessarily an atypical Hilliard Davidson defense in that we've given up a lot of yards, but we haven't given up a lot of points," White said. "Our (starters) have done a good job of bending but not breaking."
According to White, Miller's versatility causes problems.
"They do things right, and that's a credit to Brian White," Phillips said. "Zeph was hot and cold (against Fairfield). We have to eliminate mistakes offensively to be able to beat (Davidson)."