As if there hasn't been enough incentive the last two weeks as central Ohio high school football teams have tried to extend their seasons, there will be regional championship hardware on the line Friday, Nov. 17.

At the center of the hype is a rematch between the neighboring schools from Pickerington as Central and North will play for the Division I, Region 3 title.

Seven other teams from the Central District are still alive as well as the weather gets colder and the games get bigger.

Here are five things we expect heading into Week 13:

1. The battle of Pickerington stacks up as the most important ever between the programs.

Central and North have met with the OCC-Ohio Division championship on the line, and the Tigers beat the Panthers in each of their three previous playoff meetings.

However, for the first time, the winner earns a trip to a state semifinal, and there's every reason to believe the game could come down to a play or two.

On Oct. 12, Central made an early fourth-quarter field goal stand in a 24-21 win over North.

The Tigers had 363 total yards and 17 first downs compared to 360 yards and 22 first downs for the Panthers, but Central's defense stood strong during the game's biggest moments.

Both teams are coming off impressive playoff wins Nov. 10, as fifth-seeded North (10-2) beat top-seeded Centerville 42-12 and third-seeded Central (11-1) defeated second-seeded Hilliard Bradley 42-31.

2. Olentangy Liberty is seeking its second consecutive Division I, Region 2 championship.

Riding a seven-game winning streak after edging sixth-seeded Gahanna 17-14 in a regional semifinal Nov. 10, second-seeded Liberty (10-2) must get past top-seeded Toledo Whitmer (12-0) to return to a state semifinal.

Whitmer scored the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left to beat fifth-seeded Olentangy 32-29 on Nov. 10 and set up the matchup with the Patriots.

Liberty neutralized Gahanna's running game and forced Lions quarterback Mike Lowery to scramble more than usual. Now the Patriots will be tested by one of the top sophomore quarterbacks in the state in Whitmer's Riley Keller, who has thrown for 25 touchdowns, including three against the Braves.

3. New Albany is hoping its magical postseason run continues in Division II, Region 7.

Coming off a regular season in which it had four losses and was shut out in Week 8, New Albany has found its mojo.

The fifth-seeded Eagles (8-4) will play second-seeded Massillon Washington (9-3) in the Region 7 final after pulling away from top-seeded Walnut Ridge for a 30-6 victory Nov. 10.

New Albany, which was the Region 7 runner-up a year ago, seemingly has used a different formula the first two weeks in the playoffs, outscoring Whitehall 42-35 on Nov. 3 before holding the Scots to just 67 yards in the first half.

Walnut Ridge scored its only touchdown after recovering a fumble at the New Albany 16-yard line on the kickoff to open the second half.

4. Hartley is in position to win its sixth consecutive regional championship.

After previously competing in Divisions IV and V, the Hawks have looked every bit as strong during the opening two rounds of the playoffs in their first season in Division III.

Third-seeded Hartley (11-1) beat second-seeded Independence 44-14 on Nov. 10 for its 12th consecutive playoff victory and now will face fifth-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley (11-1) in the Region 11 final.

The Hawks, who haven't lost since Week 1, built a 37-0 halftime lead against Independence and were just as impressive on defense as they were offensively in holding the 76ers' vaunted running game in check.

Tri-Valley edged top-seeded Bellefontaine 36-30 on Nov. 10 to set up the matchup.

5. Four Central District small-school programs will be looking to extend their seasons.

Johnstown extended its winning streak to nine games by dominating second-seeded Portsmouth West 35-6 in a Division V, Region 19 semifinal Nov. 10.

The third-seeded Johnnies (10-2), who won their only regional title in 2011 when they lost in a state semifinal, face a tough test in the regional final in top-seeded Wheelersburg (12-0). The Pirates got out to a slow start but beat fifth-seeded Columbus Academy 35-16 on Nov. 10 to set up the matchup.

Also playing for regional titles from the Central District are Danville in Division VII, Region 27, Marion Pleasant in Division V, Region 18 and West Jefferson in Division V, Region 20.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek