Even after knocking off a pair of 2017 state champions on its way to a 3-0 start, the Pickerington High School Central football team is hungry to see how far it can progress during its final two weeks of its non-league schedule.
The Tigers' 42-19 victory at defending Division III state champion Trotwood-Madison on Sept. 7 certainly looks great on paper.
Being as sharp against Trotwood-Madison as Central was during its opening 49-18 victory over Chicago Phillips Academy on Aug. 26 before a nationally televised audience might not have been reasonable coming off a blowout win over a second-year team from Canada in Week 2.
Still, the Tigers showed how they can impose their will defensively as they had two interceptions against Trotwood-Madison, including one that Jaquwon Crawford returned 85 yards for a touchdown.
Moments such as the one that occurred late in the first half, when the Rams threw a pass that could have resulted in a touchdown to tie the game at 14 but instead was dropped, proves there is room to grow.
"Our guys got complacent when we got up 14-0 and (Trotwood-Madison) stuck their cleat in the ground, and the next thing you know it's 14-7," coach Jay Sharrett said. "They were pretty close to tying it up there before the half. We were very fortunate to pull away at the end and win the game. These guys were state champs and we're the state champs, and they were not going to roll over. They're going to win their share of ballgames, there's no doubt about that. It was a hard-hitting, mean, brutal type of football, the same type we play. I didn't think we were real sharp in the second half of the first quarter, because if we were, we would have put up 21, 28 points."
Next up for the Tigers is a home game Friday, Sept. 14, against Groveport, which is coming off back-to-back wins.
The Cruisers snapped a 12-game losing streak with a 28-14 victory over Hamilton Township on Aug. 30 and followed with a 35-14 win over Worthington Kilbourne on Sept. 7 to improve to 2-1, but they have lost 27 consecutive games against Central.
The programs have met each season since 1981, with Central holding a 28-8 record in the series.
The Tigers have forced nine turnovers on the season, with Ty Hamilton recovering two fumbles, including one that he returned for a touchdown, and Terry Simuel, Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Dom Marasco also picking off passes.
Central forced five turnovers against Phillips Academy.
"Coach always teaches us that when the ball is on the ground, go get it," senior safety Jason Betts said. "An interception, fumble, turnovers are what we love. Turnovers win games. I definitely think (our defense) is similar (to last season). Even physicality-wise, we've lost some people, but we're just as physical as we were last year."
Central beat Groveport 33-7 last season, with the Cruisers scoring on a fumble return.
The Tigers committed three first-half turnovers against Trotwood-Madison but still avenged their only loss from last season, a 28-19 defeat that also took place in Week 3, while extending their winning streak to 15 games.
"When we needed some defensive turnovers, we got a big pick-6 by (Crawford) and a (kickoff) return for a touchdown by (Terry Simuel)," Sharrett said. "We needed those just to prove to our guys that there are (numerous) ways to win.
"We played about as sharp as you could against Wendell Phillips. What we have to sharpen up are the mistakes that were decision-making. If a kid comes through, hits you hard and you fumble it, that's part of football. But when you're stretching for an extra yard or trying to force the ball on first down, that's all decision-making, and we won't make those mistakes again."