The Canal Winchester High School football team's top tackler also might have the most level head on the defense.

"Darren is nothing less than an animal," senior defensive end Angelo Hubbard said of junior middle linebacker Darren Davis. "He is definitely the voice of reason when everybody is a hothead during the game. He's the guy who keeps everybody calm and reminds us just to do our jobs."

Davis, who is 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, has a team-high 102 tackles as Canal Winchester is in contention for its first playoff berth since 2012. The Indians are 4-4 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Capital Division entering a home game against Newark on Friday, Oct. 20.

Among the anchors of the Indians' 3-3 stack defense, Davis and Hubbard were tied for the team lead in solo tackles through seven games with 58. Davis had three sacks and 10 tackles for loss, while Hubbard had 83 tackles and led the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (25).

"They are both very, very talented players," defensive coordinator Corey Coe said. "It's a development process. His sophomore year, Angelo could barely get in a stance. He hadn't played since sixth- or seventh-grade and he needed that development. I don't think I've coached a player who has his motor. When those lights turn on, he's an animal. We tell him he is the motor of our defense. He needs to set the tone for us.

"If you watch Darren's film, he is a technician as well. He buys in to the way we tackle. He does it all right. His eyes are where they should be. He has great leverage and he finishes."

Hubbard, who is 6-2, 215 pounds, already has surpassed his 75 tackles and four sacks from a year ago. He said he put on about 25 pounds of muscle during first-year coach Josh Stratton's rigorous offseason program.

"I definitely got smarter as the (2016) season went on," Hubbard said. "As I got more reps, I started seeing more trends and how people play and how I can take advantage. I am definitely playing harder and now there's less fatigue. In the offseason, coach had us running all day."

Davis, who had 62 tackles as a sophomore and also rushed for 400 yards on 59 carries, said Hubbard plays bigger than his size.

"Angelo's a monster," Davis said. "Once he gets going ... 'Ang' is unstoppable. People think defensive linemen are big and slow. Not him. He's only 215 pounds, but he plays big."

Davis said the keys to his improvement have been the experience he gained the past two seasons, when Canal Winchester went a combined 5-15, and a simplified approach for the entire defense.

"We've really 'dumbed it down' in everything," Davis said. "Last year, we ran a 4-2-5 and this year we have a 3-3 stack. I like this better because we have athletes like Dom (Davis) and Davon (Wilson) at safety who can run around. Against a wing-T (offense), we can put more guys in the box. I put our lineup against anybody's. When Angelo gets started, he makes everybody's else job so much easier."

On top of his defensive duties, Davis accounted for all three of Canal Winchester's touchdowns in a 20-19 loss at Franklin Heights on Oct. 13. He had two 1-yard scoring runs and a 56-yard punt return for a score to stake the Indians to a 19-7 lead, but they allowed 13 unanswered points in the second half.

That meant Canal Winchester was projected to be 10th in the Division II, Region 7 computer ratings this week. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

Newark is 1-7 overall and 1-2 in the league after a 14-0 victory over winless Groveport on Oct. 13. D'ante Woods rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries to become the Wildcats' all-time leading rusher.

The Indians hope this game provides a chance to atone for last week and solidify their playoff standing with two weeks left in the regular season.

"We have turned a page and changed the culture," Hubbard said. "It's not a new team, but we have a new energy in every aspect -- on the field, in practice, off the field. A lot of people around town are talking about football."

Girls soccer team clinches league title

The girls soccer team celebrated its first OCC-Capital championship last week.

Lexi Snider scored two goals to lead the Indians past Newark 4-1 on Oct. 10, as Canal Winchester finished 4-0-1 in the league, ahead of runner-up New Albany (3-0-2). The Indians played the Eagles to a scoreless tie on Oct. 3.

Hillary Counts and McKenna Sullivan also scored against Newark.

Canal Winchester finished the regular season Oct. 14 with a 5-0 loss to Olentangy Orange to fall to 11-4-1 overall.

Seeded 10th in the 42-team Division I district tournament, the Indians have a first-round bye and will play host to 14th-seeded Hilliard Davidson or 23rd-seeded Westerville Central in the second round Thursday, Oct. 19.

The winner plays 11th-seeded Grove City or 17th-seeded DeSales in a district semifinal Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the home of the higher seed. The district final is Oct. 28.

Canal Winchester, which defeated Davidson 1-0 on Sept. 21, has never won a Division I district title.

Runners finish third in OCC meet

The boys and girls cross country teams both finished third in the OCC-Capital meet Oct. 14 at Lancaster.

Led by three runners in the top 11, the girls team scored 56 points to finish behind New Albany (40) and Big Walnut (46) and ahead of Canal Winchester (56), Newark (109) and Groveport (126).

Paige Bormann placed third in 21 minutes, 17.14 seconds, followed by Allena Klamorick (seventh, 21:46.7), Erica Babusci (11th, 22:09.17), Kassidy Pastor (17th, 22:51.98) and Erin Duckworth (20th, 23:06.65).

The boys totaled 79 points to finish behind Newark (31) and New Albany (35) and ahead of Big Walnut (102) and Groveport (121).

Scoring for the Indians were Will Butler (seventh, 17:52.16), Drew Kotwis (15th, 18:44.57), Evan Young (18th, 18:56.06), Reece Klamorick (19th, 19:03.79) and Nate Hoffman (20th, 19:11.3).

Canal Winchester begins the postseason Saturday, Oct. 21, when it competes in the Division I district meet at Watkins Memorial.

The boys are in district 2, from which the top five teams and top 20 runners advance to regional Oct. 28 at Pickerington North. The girls are in district 3, where the top six teams and top 24 runners qualify for regional.

Postseason begins for volleyball team

The girls volleyball team looked to carry the momentum from its best league season in six years into the Division I district tournament.

Seeded 14th of 50 teams, Canal Winchester played host to 16th-seeded Grove City in a first-round match Oct. 17.

The winner plays sixth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne or 46th-seeded Central Crossing in a second-round match Thursday, Oct. 19, at the home of the higher seed. That winner advances to face eighth-seeded Olentangy, 34th-seeded Marysville or 40th-seeded Columbus West in a district semifinal Wednesday, Oct. 25, at Franklin Heights.

The district final is Oct. 28.

The Indians defeated Central Crossing 25-10, 25-11, 25-16 on Aug. 22.

Canal Winchester finished the regular season at 15-7 overall and 8-2 in the OCC-Capital with a 25-19, 25-21, 25-27, 25-16 win over Newark. Although the Indians won seven OCC-Cardinal matches in 2015 and eight in 2014, this year marks their highest winning percentage in league play since they finished 11-3 in the MSL-Buckeye in 2011 to place second behind Bloom-Carroll (14-0).

The Indians finished second in the OCC-Capital this year, behind Big Walnut (10-0).

Boys soccer team opens tourney

The boys soccer team ended the regular season Oct. 12 with a 4-1 loss at Pickerington North, but then got almost a week to prepare for the Division I district tournament.

Seeded 15th of 47 teams, Canal Winchester played host to 31st-seeded Mount Vernon in a first-round game Oct. 18.

The winner plays host to 38th-seeded Briggs in the second round Saturday, Oct. 21, and that winner advances to face sixth-seeded Westerville South, 21st-seeded Logan or 36th-seeded Teays Valley in a district semifinal Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the home of the higher seed.

The district final is Oct. 28.

The Indians, who are seeking their second district title in four years, have not played any of those teams this season.

Canal Winchester was 8-5-3 overall before Oct. 18 and finished 3-1-1 in the OCC-Capital after a 9-0 win at Newark on Oct. 10. Chase Riley, Sam Thompson and Nate Yun each scored two goals against the Wildcats and Stewart Gentry made one save.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave