The results of the regional finals Nov. 17 were the latest evidence of the strength that central Ohio high school football possesses in Division I.
Pickerington Central has been the area’s premier big-school program the last several years, earning a state runner-up finish in 2011 and making it to a state semifinal last season.
The Tigers are back in a state semifinal for the second consecutive year, as is Olentangy Liberty.
The only other Central District program to win its regional final was Danville in Division VII.
Here are five things we learned from the third week of the playoffs:
1. Strong defense and offensive efficiency have helped set Liberty apart.
With a 34-7 victory over top-seeded Toledo Whitmer on Nov. 17 in the Division I, Region 2 final at Findlay, the second-seeded Patriots improved to 11-2 and advanced to a state semifinal Nov. 24 against Mentor.
Liberty lost 42-0 to Pickerington North on Sept. 22 and allowed 28 points the next week but has given up an average of just 12 points the last seven weeks. Troy Oehler and Lucas Campbell had interceptions against Whitmer.
Mitchell Okuley was 10-for-15 passing for 192 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, and Matthew Webb rushed 23 times for 156 yards and two scores.
2. Central has one of central Ohio’s top sophomores in quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw.
In each of the Tigers’ wins this season over North, including their 31-14 victory Nov. 17 in the Division I, Region 3 final at DeSales, Crenshaw made big plays through the air and on the ground. He passed for 98 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 134 yards and three scores as third-seeded Central improved to 12-1 and fifth-seeded North finished 10-3.
Crenshaw had a 71-yard scoring run early in the first quarter to set the pace and then hooked up with Terry Simuel for a 59-yard touchdown.
The Tigers have a handful of players they use as complementary weapons on offense such as senior safety and Michigan State recruit Xavier Henderson, but much of their success on that side of the ball starts with Crenshaw.
The Tigers advanced to a state semifinal Nov. 24 against Cincinnati Colerain.
3. Hartley’s first experience in Division III ended with a regional-final loss.
The third-seeded Hawks were a difficult team to stop offensively throughout the 11-game winning streak they took into the Division III, Region 11 final Nov. 17 against fifth-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley at White Field in Newark.
Penalties and failures to execute during the game’s most crucial possessions, however, did in Hartley as it lost 13-9 to finish 11-2.
The loss also snapped a 12-game postseason winning streak for the Hawks, who entered the game having won back-to-back Division IV state titles.
4. New Albany closed its season with a second consecutive runner-up finish in Division II, Region 7.
After losing to Massillon Perry 17-6 in last year’s Region 7 final, fifth-seeded New Albany fell to second-seeded Massillon Washington 24-6 on Nov. 17 at Arlin Field in Mansfield.
The Tigers outgained New Albany 508-140 and held the ball for nearly 32 minutes to end an Eagles’ season that peaked during the playoffs.
New Albany had won seven of eight heading into the matchup, including beating top-seeded Walnut Ridge 30-6 on Nov. 10 in a regional semifinal.
5. Danville survived red-hot Hannibal River to advance to a state semifinal.
The top-seeded Blue Devils needed a late touchdown by Skyler Durbin, along with his two-point conversion run, to beat sixth-seeded River 29-28 for the Division VII, Region 27 title.
River upset third-seeded Harvest Prep 39-34 on Nov. 3 and blew past seventh-seeded Portmouth Sciotoville East 59-8 on Nov. 10 to set up the matchup.
Danville is in a state semifinal for the second time in three seasons.