First place in the OCC-Cardinal Division will be on the line Friday, Oct. 25, when the Hilliard Darby High School football team visits Westerville Central.
Both teams are 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the league.
The game will feature two of the top spread offenses in the area, as the Panthers are averaging 32 points and the Warhawks are averaging 51.3 points.
Central has scored at least 41 points in every game since opening with a 29-7 win over DeSales on Aug. 30.
"They're very athletic," Darby coach John Santagata said of the Warhawks. "They do a lot of things offensively that score a ton of points. It's going to be a big challenge for us. They're a very explosive offense, but that's what it's all about. It's fun for our coaches. It's fun for our kids."
Last season, Darby defeated Central 29-7 on its way to winning the league title at 7-0. It was the first meeting between the teams.
"One of our goals after our first three games is we start talking about the OCC," Santagata said. "We never look past opponents. We won't necessarily say this is for the league championship because obviously that would be unfair to (Hilliard) Bradley (in the regular-season finale Nov. 1). We never try to look past anybody, but this is the next step in trying to get that OCC championship against a very good football team."
The game features two teams that are contending for Division I postseason berths.
Darby was expected to be tied with Miamisburg for 12th in the Region 2 computer ratings this week, and Central was projected to be seventh in Region 1. The top 16 teams in each region qualify for the playoffs.
Senior quarterback Nate Green leads Darby's balanced attack, as he has completed 36 of 57 passes for 554 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed for 528 yards and nine touchdowns on 122 carries.
Running back Lorenzo McLaurin has rushed for 504 yards and eight touchdowns on 114 carries.
"(The Panthers) just do everything right," Central coach John Magistro said. "They're fundamentally sound and they want it to be a short football game."
Darby's defense, which is led by linebacker Trevor Parker's 58 tackles, will attempt to do something that hasn't happened often this season: contain Jared Drake.
Central's senior quarterback has completed 111 of 172 passes for 1,761 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 565 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries.
"Darby is going to be a bigger game," Drake said after Central beat Westerville South 54-35 on Oct. 17. "I know they're tough (and) they handed it to South (52-17 on Oct. 11). They're definitely a good team, they have a lot of good players, but we have to do everything we can to come out right from the start, non-stop, and hand it to them. I'm looking forward to that game."
Running back Alex Fisher has rushed for 589 yards and 13 touchdowns on 95 carries. Wide receivers Cedric Frierson (384 yards), Micah Lowe (380), Eldin Anu (370) and Tommy Mansfield (314) have been Drake's top targets.
"They are very explosive (and) they are very fast," Darby senior lineman Josh Huffman said. "They have a lot of athletes at a lot of different positions. Our defense is going to have to work real hard and be prepared for that."
South trying for .500 finish
Unlike Dublin Jerome, South no longer has a chance for a winning record this season.
Quarterback Timmy Bates said the Wildcats still will be motivated when they play host to Jerome on Friday, Oct. 25, in an OCC-Cardinal game.
"We just have to come out and finish these last two games and just play unbelievable and show the entire state what we're really made of," he said.
Jerome rushed for 257 yards while beating Canal Winchester 30-13 on Oct. 18 to improve to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Cardinal. Quarterback Alex Cline threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to running back Ian Beith and a 15-yarder to receiver Nate Szekely.
South's defense, which is led by end Curtis Mitchell, free safety Trey Harden and middle linebacker Kamaree Walden, is desperate for a turnaround after allowing an average of 47.3 points during the Wildcats' current four-game losing streak.
The Wildcats gave up 429 yards rushing and 155 yards passing during a 54-35 loss to Central on Oct. 17, as they dropped to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Cardinal.
"We've played the four toughest teams in our league and lost all of them," coach Rocky Pentello said. "We want to be .500, win the last two and take it into next year. That's really all you can do at this point."
The Celtics' defense is coming off one of its best games, having limited the Indians to 25 yards rushing.
South's offense continued to be effective against Central, as running back Darien Miller rushed for 140 yards and four touchdowns on 18 carries, Bates was 21-for-36 passing for 297 yards and a touchdown and receiver Abu Daramy had 12 catches for 228 yards and a score.
North looking to end losing streak
Coming off its closest contest of the season, North will seek to end its six-game losing streak when it visits winless Canal Winchester on Friday, Oct. 25, in an OCC-Cardinal game.
Despite amassing only 103 yards of offense Oct. 18, a missed extra-point attempt was the ultimate difference in the Warriors' 21-20 loss to visiting Hilliard Bradley. North, which averages 203 yards rushing and has just 368 yards passing this season, was held to 97 yards on the ground in falling to 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the league.
Junior Jake Hinz's 519 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries pace the Warriors. Senior running back/linebacker Andy Struttmann has 388 yards and six touchdowns on 58 carries and is third on defense with 70 tackles, behind Hinz's 92 and sophomore linebacker Andrew Malick's 91.
Struttmann and senior running back John Taylor (430 yards, 96 carries, 5 touchdowns) scored on 1-yard runs against Bradley, and North got a touchdown on a 48-yard fumble return by sophomore defensive lineman Antonio Shelton.
Canal Winchester fell to 0-8 overall and 0-5 in the league with a 30-13 loss at Dublin Jerome on Oct. 18.
The Indians managed only 131 total yards, including just 25 rushing, and had seven first downs. Senior Khari Golden accounted for both touchdowns, returning a blocked punt in the third quarter and catching a 15-yard pass from Nick Hammond in the fourth.
Golden has 36 solo tackles to help pace a defense that is allowing 41.4 points per game. The Indians are averaging just 8.5 points.