One of the most physical defenses that central Ohio has ever produced helped the Pickerington High School Central football team reach its third Division I state championship game.
Once they got there, the Tigers’ offense provided the perfect complement, shining perhaps like it never has before.
Central’s defense had its share of big moments, too, but Mentor never really had an answer for the Tigers’ running game on Dec. 1 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Here are five things we learned as Central won 56-28 to capture its first state title:
1. Demeatric Crenshaw finished the season on a touchdown-scoring binge that most quarterbacks only dream about.
At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and with excellent quickness, the sophomore — in his first season as the Tigers’ quarterback — has to be extremely imposing to defenses once he gets into the open field.
He had three touchdown runs and one passing touchdown during Central’s regional final win, ran for four scores in its state semifinal win and then rushed for a Division I state-record six touchdowns during the title game to give him 24 rushing scores on the season.
2. The Tigers made Mentor quarterback Tadas Tatarunas look ordinary.
Tadarunas entered the state final with 3,231 yards and 30 touchdowns passing, producing one of his best performances in a 27-21 victory over Olentangy Liberty in a state semifinal Nov. 24 when he completed 22 of 32 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for two scores.
The pinpoint passing ability that he showed against the Patriots was on display at times in the first half of the state final, but Tadarunas finished just 15-for-33 for 196 yards and one score.
3. Defense helped turn the tide for Central in the second half.
After the Tigers forced the Cardinals to turn it over on downs on the opening possession of the second half, Central gave up just one more touchdown.
Mentor punted twice during the second half and turned it over on downs midway through the fourth quarter as the defensive standouts for the Tigers included Grey Brancifort (12 tackles), Jeremiah Wood (10 tackles), Isaiah O’Connor (8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble) and Trenton Gillison (1 forced fumble, 1.5 tackles for loss).
4. Central had a couple early turnovers but never panicked.
Being penalized nine times for 94 yards wasn’t uncharacteristic for the Tigers, but having two turnovers in the first half — one on a fumble, the other on an interception — isn’t the norm and could have made a big difference.
Mentor turned one of the turnovers into a score and a 14-7 lead, but Central responded by forcing two fumbles, leading to a 21-14 advantage. The Tigers didn’t commit any other turnovers.
5. Xavier Henderson could star at numerous positions.
The 6-2, 195-pounder is headed to Michigan State as a defensive back because of his combination of height and speed, but he showed in the state final that he could have been a great running back if the Tigers had decided to utilize him that way full time.
Henderson, who rushed for 153 yards and one score, also probably could have developed into one of the state’s best wide receivers if Central ran a spread offense. He’s tough enough that he could be a solid linebacker if the Tigers weren’t already deep at that position.
Developing special athletes such as Henderson is one of the numerous reasons the Tigers became central Ohio’s fourth big-school state champion.