Midway through the regular season, the Olentangy Orange High School football team has yet to lose, but the biggest challenges lie ahead.

The Pioneers begin OCC-Buckeye Division play Friday, Sept. 29, at home against Westerville North, and coach Zebb Schroeder said league competition brings out the best in all teams.

“The games are dog eat dog, especially in our conference,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of battles going down to the fourth quarter.”

The Pioneers have not had that issue in their first five contests. They have trailed only twice this season and both instances came in the same game – Sept. 15 at Big Walnut. The Golden Eagles led 3-0 early in the second quarter and 10-7 at halftime before being shut out in the second half as Orange pulled away for a 35-10 victory.

Schroeder said his team probably faces its toughest test to date in North, which is 2-3.

“North has a lot of kids back on the defensive side of the ball and (the Warriors) make you play physical football,” he said. “Their defensive front – their linemen and linebackers – are big, experienced and physical, and they do a really good job against the run. They have the best defensive front that we have played thus far.”

The Warriors are coming off a 27-26 overtime loss to New Albany on Sept. 22. Rondale Smith rushed for 83 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, and Bodi Bien added 87 yards on 13 carries. Quarterback Reno Godfrey was 12-for-15 passing for 100 yards.

“Their offense runs a lot of dives and they have a lot of quick-hitting plays,” said Schroeder, whose team has won all three meetings with the Warriors, including 24-20 last season. “If you’re slow to the trigger on defense then bang, they get four yards on you.”

The Pioneers had an easy time in their non-league finale, a 50-14 win over visiting Newark on Sept. 22. They scored all of their points in the first half and substituted liberally as early as the second quarter.

Jack Vanchieri had 69 yards on 16 carries to lead the running attack, which accounted for 299 of the team’s 337 total yards. Jack Applegate rushed for 57 yards and three touchdowns on five carries, and Graham Starn added 58 yards and two scores on six attempts.

Defensively, Jack Neer had one interception and one sack.

“It’s going to be extra tough from here on out,” Schroeder said. “We have to have the best practices of the year on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and we have to be ready to play.”