On the bus ride home after his team celebrated its second consecutive regional title Nov. 17, all Pickerington High School Central football coach Jay Sharrett could do was laugh when he was told that his next opponent had just rushed for about 400 yards to win its regional title.
The Tigers (12-1) will play Cincinnati Colerain (11-2) in a Division I state semifinal Friday, Nov. 24, at Springfield.
"I guess we'll get to enjoy this one for about 10 minutes," said Sharrett, who has guided the Tigers to five regional championships in 15 seasons.
Central has been in top form, particularly on defense, in the playoffs thus far, including holding Pickerington North to a season-low point total in a 31-14 victory in the Region 3 final Nov. 17 at DeSales.
After forcing four turnovers and limiting the Panthers' much-respected passing game to 154 yards, the Tigers likely will have to use a different defensive formula against the run-oriented Cardinals.
The Central-Colerain winner will play Olentangy Liberty or Mentor in the state final Nov. 30 or Dec. 1 at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton.
The Tigers are seeking their first state championship. They are 2-3 in state semifinals, having advanced to the championship game in 2006 (Division II) and 2011 (Division I). Last season, they lost to eventual champion Cincinnati St. Xavier 29-27 in a state semifinal.
Against North, Isaiah O'Conner and Grey Brancifort each had a fumble recovery and Jaquwon Crawford and Xavier Henderson both had an interception to lead the Tigers' defense.
Colerain has won 11 games in a row and is coming off a 21-14 victory over St. Xavier in the Region 4 final Nov. 17 at Mason.
While the Tigers are making their 12th consecutive playoff appearance and are 31-17 all-time in the playoffs, the Cardinals are in the postseason for the eighth year in a row and 10th time in 11 seasons under coach Tom Bolden.
Colerain is 118-19 under Bolden, including a 38-20 victory over Central in a 2013 regional semifinal and a 28-15 win over the Tigers in the 2012 season opener. In the Cardinals' only previous state semifinal appearance under Bolden, they lost to Huber Heights Wayne 28-21 in 2015.
Colerain won the state title in 2004 under former coach Kerry Coombs and is 38-20 all-time in the playoffs.
Against St. Xavier, J.J. Davis ran for 218 yards on 12 carries as the Cardinals rushed for 385 yards and produced 413 total yards.
Through 12 games, senior quarterback Gunnar Leyendecker was 51-for-97 passing for 821 yards and 13 touchdowns and had rushed for 785 yards and six scores.
Junior Ivan Pace Jr. was Colerain's leading rusher with 865 yards and 16 touchdowns and the Cardinals were averaging 272 yards on the ground.
"We played them in 2013 and they knocked us out and had a great team that year," Sharrett said. "It was a tough ballgame. I know coach Bolden very well, and it'll be a classic matchup. They run the veer option, dive, speed sweep, they play very good defense and they'll be loaded with athletes."
Two players whose last name is Bolden lead Colerain's defense.
Through 12 games, the coach's son, linebacker Luke Bolden, had 88 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and his nephew, linebacker Dan Bolden, had 108 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four interceptions.
Colerain held St. Xavier to 183 total yards.
Central finished with 14 first downs, two fewer than North, as it won its sixth consecutive game in the series against the Panthers and improved to 11-3 all-time against its sister school.
Sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw passed for 98 yards and a touchdown and rushed 18 times for 134 yards and three scores.
Henderson had six carries for 38 yards and completed a 37-yard halfback pass to Tristan Peppers to set up a score as the Tigers produced 319 yards of offense and committed no turnovers.
"It feels good, especially against our rival," Henderson said. "(We're) 6-0 in our career against North. It's coach Sharrett's town. We're going to enjoy it and maybe enjoy it a little bit more because it's North."