Pickerington celebrates after Tigers pounce on Cardinals for first state football crown

As the Pickerington High School Central football team was being presented the Division I state championship trophy, OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross asked the hundreds of fans who were celebrating on the field whether the journey to Canton was worth it.

The answer was a resounding "yes" from a fan base that has made numerous long trips deep into the playoffs over the past 25 years but never had been the last ones standing -- until now.

And it seemed fitting that the trophy was presented by Ross who was the well-respected superintendent of the Pickerington Local School District from 1986 to 1997, an era that saw the community deal with tremendous residential growth.

With a 56-28 victory over Mentor on Dec. 1 in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, the Tigers captured the first state title for a program that had finished as state runner-up in 2006 and 2011, had reached the state semifinals three other times and had qualified for the playoffs for the 18th time.

The win also gave Central a final record of 14-1 that represents the program's new high-water mark for victories in a season, topping the '06 team that lost in the Division II title game to finish 13-2.

"This senior class, we've been playing together since we were little -- 8, 9, 10 years old -- and to go out in this way with this senior class and getting a ring for coach (Jay) Sharrett and (longtime assistant) coach (Jeff) Lomonico, it means everything," senior defensive back and running back Xavier Henderson said.

Central and Mentor were tied at 21 at halftime, but the Tigers produced five second-half touchdowns and ended up with their most points in a game since beating Newark 87-0 in Week 8 of the 2011 season.

Sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw's six touchdown runs set the Division I state-final record and tied the state-final mark for all divisions set by Isreal Green of Trotwood-Madison in the Division II final in 2011.

The Tigers gave the Central District just its fourth big-school state title since the start of the playoff era in 1972, with the others coming in 2000 by Upper Arlington and in 2006 and '09 by Hilliard Davidson.

"For us, it's a lifestyle," Sharrett said. "We spend a lot of time with these guys and get to know them from junior high on the way up.

"Everybody has their thing that they do, and today, what we did today, (we said it's) kind of like your duty, and that's kind of how (the players) took it."

Central lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 34-13 in the 2011 Division I state final and lost to Cincinnati St. Xavier 29-27 in a state semifinal last season to finish 12-2.

The Tigers closed this season on a 12-game winning streak and averaged 42.2 points during their playoff run.

Their win over Mentor marked the 154th career victory for Sharrett, who took over as Central coach in 2003, the first year the school district had two high schools.

"They kind of surrender themselves to the team and they don't worry about stats," Sharrett said of his players. "You won't find our guys rushing for 2,500 yards and throwing for 3,000 yards or anything like that.

" ... When you surrender yourselves, the last thing you want to do is come to the sidelines and look at one of these seniors in the eyes and say, 'I messed up your senior year.' "