As was the case during their regular-season matchup, the Pickerington High School North football team and Pickerington Central were comparable statistically in categories such as total yardage, first downs and total plays in the Division I, Region 3 final Nov. 17 at DeSales.
However, the majority of the game-changing plays in the Panthers' sixth consecutive loss in the series were executed by the Tigers.
North committed four turnovers and gave up a pair of long touchdowns in the first half as Central seized control on its way to a 31-14 victory.
The Panthers finished 10-3 overall, while the Tigers improved to 12-1 and will play Cincinnati Colerain in a state semifinal Friday, Nov. 24.
"They played a great game and, obviously, we've got to give props to them," coach Nate Hillerich said of Central. "It was two of the top eight teams in the state. We had a couple chances to make plays and didn't make them. They made a couple of the big plays and got some turnovers. It's a tough one because we had a team that we thought could still be playing next week."
The Panthers also lost to Central 24-21 on Oct. 13, but won their last two games of the regular season to earn the fifth seed in the Region 3 playoffs. The Tigers were seeded third.
North opened the playoffs with a 41-20 win at fourth-seeded Huber Heights Wayne on Nov. 3 and routed top-seeded Centerville 42-12 in a regional semifinal Nov. 10 at Springfield.
The win over the Elks avenged a 27-26 loss Sept. 8.
In the regional final, the Panthers trailed Central 17-7 at halftime. They pulled within 24-14 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from senior Jimmy Weirick to junior tight end Tyler Foster with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
North got the ball back with 7:37 remaining at the Tigers' 32, but Weirick threw incomplete to senior receiver Ty Wiley on fourth-and-7 from the 29.
Wiley finished the season with 61 catches for 1,228 yards and 17 touchdowns, but was held without a catch by a Tigers defense that forced four turnovers, including intercepting Weirick twice.
In the regular-season matchup, Central sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw rushed for a 74-yard touchdown to open the scoring and later threw a 51-yard touchdown pass. In the first quarter of the rematch, he ran for a 71-yard touchdown and threw a 59-yard touchdown.
"(Crenshaw) is an unbelievable player, just a big kid that extends plays," Hillerich said. "In the first half, they only had five first downs, but we gave up some big plays."
North went 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division to finish second, behind Central (5-0) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (3-2), Gahanna (2-3), Lancaster (1-4) and Grove City (0-5).
Gahanna made the Division I, Region 2 playoffs and Reynoldsburg finished 7-3 and fell one spot shy of a Region 3 playoff berth.
After finishing 8-4 a year ago, the Panthers reached a regional final for just the second time. They were a state semifinalist in 2012 under former coach Tom Phillips, who was replaced by Hillerich in the offseason.
"(It was an) unbelievable season," said Hillerich, who led Hamilton Township to a Division III regional final a year ago. "(It was the) second-best team in school history and the second team to make it to the regional final."
The Panthers are losing 24 seniors, led by Weirick, who was named district Offensive Player of the Year and shared OCC-Ohio Player of the Year honors with Central's Xavier Henderson.
Weirick completed 13 of 33 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries in the regional final. On the season, he was 161-for-320 passing for 2,680 yards with 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and rushed for 1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns on 136 carries.
Weirick leaves as the program leader in career touchdowns with 73 and career passing yards with more than 6,500.
Senior linebacker Nick Giardina had 103 tackles this season and is the program's second all-time leading tackler, while Wiley is the program's all-time leader in yards receiving (2,436), receptions (129) and touchdown receptions (28).
Weirick and Wiley were joined on first-team all-district by senior defensive back Tyler Potts, a Ball State University commit, and senior defensive lineman Alex Williams, who has committed to West Virginia.
Giardina was second-team all-district.
Giardina, Potts, Weirick, Wiley and Williams all were named first-team all-league, while seniors Eli Davis (DB), Que Davis (DB) and Devin Snyder (OL/DL) were second-team all-league.
Senior kicker William Shalawylo made 54 of 57 extra-point attempts and two field goals.
Four of North's biggest standouts in the regional final were underclassmen.
Junior linebacker Ben Johnson had 9.5 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Freshman Jack Sawyer (LB/TE) had 2.5 tackles and one tackle for loss, sophomore Chris Scott (WR/DB/P) had six catches for 78 yards and one touchdown and junior tight end Tyler Foster had four catches for 44 yards and one score.
Another standout this season was junior offensive lineman Sam Glover, who was second-team all-district and all-league.
Johnson was second-team all-district and all-league, Foster was special mention all-league and honorable mention all-district and Sawyer was special mention all-district and honorable mention all-league.
Johnson finished second on the team in tackles with 80.5.
Junior running back Larry Martin rushed for 605 yards and six touchdowns, junior Jaylon Baylor had 24 catches for 339 yards and six scores, Scott had 24 receptions for 485 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 37.7 yards per punt and Foster had 27 catches for 330 yards and six scores.
Scott and senior Mitchell Smith were listed as the team's backup quarterbacks, but no one other than Weirick completed a pass.
Others eligible to return include juniors Davontae Burroughs (OL/DL), Tim Cheatwood (WR/DB), Jimmy McBride (RB/LB) and Charlie Steioff (OL/DL).
"We made a lot of big plays on defense to help keep us in the (regional final), but it wasn't enough," Johnson said. "We have a lot of great players coming back next year. We'll bounce back."