There’s one week to go in the high school football season and one team from central Ohio still is playing.
On Nov. 24 in a Division I state semifinal, Pickerington Central overcame the punishing running game of Cincinnati Colerain to win 41-28.
The Tigers advanced to the state championship game Dec. 1 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton against Mentor, which edged Olentangy Liberty 27-21 to end the possibility of an all-central Ohio big-school final.
Both Division I semifinals featured drama and the emotions that make the sport special.
Here are five things we learned from the fourth week of the playoffs:
1. Central continues to turn physical defense into an art form.
Sure, the Tigers have been giving up points during the playoffs, but they controlled teams like Hilliard Bradley and Pickerington North by mostly neutralizing their passing games.
Colerain posed a different kind of threat with the speed of its run-oriented attack, and while Central gave up big plays, it forced five turnovers.
Xavier Henderson had a fumble recovery, an interception and 11 tackles, and Trenton Gillison, Grey Brancifort and Jaquwon Crawford all had one fumble recovery.
The Tigers also caused four turnovers against North and had four interceptions against Bradley.
2. Henderson’s abilities have truly shined through during the playoffs.
After being named the district’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, Henderson has saved some of his best play for the postseason.
In the Tigers’ latest win, the Michigan State recruit at defensive back showed he probably could be a superstar no matter what position he plays.
While sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw continues to lead Central’s running game, Henderson rushed 12 times for 66 yards and had two catches for 30 yards. He even added a 42-yard kickoff return.
Henderson has been an example of what coach Jay Sharrett talked about after the game when he told ThisWeek that he has high-level players who “surrender themselves to the team.”
3. Liberty was one play from advancing to the state championship game.
Think about that for a minute. A season that featured an eight-game winning streak, an OCC-Buckeye Division title that included wins over its two biggest rivals and the Region 2 title came down to a fourth-down play in which a pass to Johnny Wiseman was overthrown by just a few inches in the end zone.
For the Patriots, the biggest positive that comes from the season is they again came within one win of reaching the state final.
Doing that two years in a row, particularly in Division I, is extremely rare and a sign the program has risen to a new level.
4. A short stretch that began late in the third quarter proved to be Liberty’s undoing.
After coming back to tie the game at 14 midway through the third, the Patriots struggled after that to contain an efficient Mentor passing game.
Quarterback Tadas Tatarunas always seemed to throw into double- or triple-coverage but found ways to hook up with receivers, including Logan Shea for a 25-yard reception that set up one touchdown.
Then with his team leading 21-14, Tatarunas hit Steven Baird for a 7-yard reception on fourth-and-4 from the Liberty 26 to set up another score.
5. The other Central District team in a state semifinal had another great season.
Danville was making its fourth appearance in a state semifinal but lost to Cuyahoga Heights 38-8 in Division VII.
The Blue Devils, who have yet to reach a state championship game and finished 12-2, took an 8-7 lead in the first quarter before Cuyahoga Heights seized control.
Cuyahoga Heights was the Division VI state runner-up last season.