The first act in what helped Akili Taylor earn the district's Offensive Player of the Year honor for the Ready High School football team featured him rushing for 269 yards on 35 carries in a 26-14 opening win over Newark Catholic on Aug. 30.
Although the senior running back remains center stage in the Silver Knights' offense with more than 1,800 yards rushing, a growing supporting cast is something the Green Wave will have to deal with when the teams meet for the Division VI, Region 21 championship Friday, Nov. 22, at Gahanna.
Fourth-seeded Newark Catholic, which hasn't lost since the opener and like second-seeded Ready is 11-1, also looks a bit different to Knights coach Joel Cutler.
"They've got some different personnel in their secondary and they've improved their defense since we played them," Cutler said. "Offensively, they've been good all year."
The winner plays in a state semifinal Nov. 29 against Kirtland or Mogadore.
While the Knights lost in the first round of the Division IV playoffs last year, the Green Wave lost in the Division VI state final.
On Nov. 15, Ready beat sixth-seeded Woodsfield Monroe Central 45-14 at Zanesville and Newark Catholic defeated top-seeded Lucasville Valley 35-21 at Nelsonville-York to set up the rematch.
Taylor had a team-best 129 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 16 attempts against Monroe Central, but senior running backs Bran-den Bailey and DeAndre Golden both had five rushes and 10 players carried the ball.
Senior wide receiver Kelly Culbertson added four receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown for the Knights, who have exceeded the 26 points they scored in their opener in every game except for their 21-14 overtime loss to Hartley on Nov. 1.
The Green Wave has been led on defense by first-team all-district selections Anthony Wing (DB) and Spencer Chapman (DL) and has given up an average of 11.6 points since surrendering a season-high point total in the opener against Ready.
Newark Catholic allowed 375 total yards against Valley but was lifted by a balanced offensive effort.
Senior quarterback Chayce Crouch, who was the district's Defensive Player of the Year at punter, completed 11 of 16 passes for 209 yards with four touchdowns and Wing rushed for 95 yards and one score. Senior wide receiver Hunter Nance had three catches for 91 yards and one touchdown.
Ready held Monroe Central to 70 yards rushing.
"I feel very good about our kids' commitment," Newark Catholic coach Bill Franks said. "Offensively, we were very balanced (against Valley) in that we had about 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. Defensively, we bent but didn't break. We were able to not let them get loose.
"We're excited to play in the regional final. (The Knights are) well-coached, their kids have worked very hard and they're just a very solid unit. Coach Cutler and I are both (University of Dayton) graduates, so we've both been blessed to play in quality programs."