CANTON — Locked in a tight battle against Mentor in the Division I state final Dec. 1 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, the Pickerington High School Central football team’s defense helped shift the momentum early in the third quarter.

The Cardinals had fourth-and-inches at the Tigers’ 4-yard line, but with Central piling several defenders into the box, Mentor elected to pass, and quarterback Tadas Tatarunas’ attempt fell incomplete in the end zone.

Central turned the turnover on downs into a 14-point swing, as it scored on the ensuing drive to take a lead that it would not relinquish on its way to a 56-28 victory in front of a crowd of 12,711.

The Tigers earned their first state championship and just the fourth big-school title by a Central District program. The other area big-school champions were Upper Arlington in 2000 and Hilliard Davidson in 2006 and ’09.

“(Stopping Mentor on fourth down) was the key point in the game,” coach Jay Sharrett said. “They came out with their halftime adjustments. Their quarterback’s a great decision-maker. On the fourth-and-short, we thought they were going to run, so we put a little heavy set in and they passed it and, fortunately, it was incomplete.”

The Tigers were led by sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw, who rushed for six touchdowns to set the Division I state-final record and tie the state-final record for all divisions.

Following the defensive stand, Central took a 28-21 lead on the ensuing possession, capping a 96-yard, nine-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown run by Crenshaw with 4 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter. Xavier Henderson ran for 38 yards to move the Tigers into Mentor territory and ran for 13 yards on the play before Crenshaw’s touchdown.

Then, after forcing a Cardinals punt, Central took over at its own 39 and Crenshaw connected with Alex Morgan on a 60-yard pass to the Cardinals’ 1. Crenshaw ran for a touchdown on the next play to make it 35-21.

Crenshaw scored his sixth touchdown on a 7-yard run with 9:07 remaining and Jeremiah Wood and Henderson later added touchdown runs.

“Somebody needs to check (Crenshaw’s) age,” Henderson said, jokingly. “He’s amazing.”

Crenshaw finished with 161 yards rushing on 24 carries and passed for 104 yards.

“The only thing I had in my head was to get the win,” Crenshaw said. “(Scoring six touchdowns) didn’t hit me yet, but what did hit me was the win.”

Central scored on the game’s opening possession as Crenshaw ran for a 6-yard touchdown to complete a nine-play, 66-yard drive.

Mentor scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead, but Central’s Trenton Gillison forced Tatarunas to fumble and recovered the ball at the Mentor 3 midway through the second quarter.

Three plays later, Crenshaw ran for a 3-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14.

Central’s Justin Sutherland forced Mentor’s Luke Floriea to fumble the ensuing kickoff and the Tigers’ Gio Thomas recovered the ball at the Mentor 11. Crenshaw then ran for 10 yards on first down and scored on the next play to give Central a 21-14 lead.

Mentor drove 80 yards to tie the game at 21 as Tatarunas ran in from 5 yards with 3:28 left in the first half.

“It feels pretty good,” Sharrett said. “This team, 21-21 at halftime, we went in and made our halftime adjustments and the guys got their feet back on the ground.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

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Team 1 2 3 4 Final MENTOR 14 7 7 0 28 PICKERINGTON CENTRAL
7 14 14 21 56

PC—Crenshaw 6 run (Cubra kick)

M—Tatarunas 11 run (McIntosh kick)

M—Baird 46 pass from Tatarunas (McIntosh kick)

PC—Crenshaw 3 run (Cubra kick)

PC—Crenshaw 1 run (Cubra kick)

M—Tatarunas 5 run (McIntosh kick)

PC—Crenshaw 10 run (Cubra kick)

PC—Crenshaw 1 run (Cubra kick)

M—McDougall 2 run (McIntosh kick)

PC—Crenshaw 7 run (Cubra kick)

PC—Wood 1 run (Cubra kick)

PC—Henderson 24 run (Cubra kick)