There were questions to be answered by the Pickerington High School North football team with all-everything quarterback Jimmy Weirick, top receiver Ty Wiley, linebacker Nick Giardina and lineman Alex Williams, among others, having graduated from a team that won 10 games and made it to the regional semifinals last year.
Four weeks in, there is one big question remaining: How much better can the Panthers get?
Mike Lowery threw four touchdown passes and the defense gave up just three first downs before a running clock was instituted at the start of the second half in North’s 52-7 victory over Westerville Central on Sept. 14 at Warhawk Field.
Lowery, who transferred from Gahanna, completed 15 of 19 passes for 247 yards in a little more than two quarters.
The Panthers (4-0) defeated the Warhawks (3-1) 42-3 last season and 45-16 in 2016, but North coach Nate Hillerich said his players learned a lesson two weeks ago about slacking off.
“The big thing for our team was Week 2 against Dublin Jerome, a team we handled pretty easily the previous year,” Hillerich said. “We were up 21-7 at halftime, and I think we got complacent and let up. Our kids had to fight adversity. They wound up taking the lead in the fourth quarter and we found a way to win.”
No matter how many players must be replaced, fans and students expect a winner. North has made the playoffs five times since ’09.
“Absolutely, we’ve had a lot of work to do,” Hillerich said. “I think the kids know that from seventh grade in (Pickerington Youth Athletic Association) football. They know they have to live up to it.”
Lowery, a senior, isn’t an outsider in that he attended Pickerington schools through his freshman year.
“It feels like home. These are my brothers because I played with them in the seventh grade,” Lowery said. “My line is working extremely hard. I might have gotten sacked once. They put everything together.”
The Panthers scored on six of their first seven possessions. The tone was set when Lowery completed a 57-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Foster over the middle with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
Defensive end Jack Sawyer, a sophomore, helped make it 28-0 when he stripped the ball from Central quarterback Labronz Davis in the end zone and Jimmy McBride recovered with 11:50 left in the second quarter.
“We were fired up because they said some things on interview shows and we saw it,” Sawyer said. “We practiced that much harder and faster. We were ready. A bunch of starters graduated from last year, but we have a bunch of young guys ready to fill in.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final PICKERINGTON NORTH 21 17 14 0 52 WESTERVILLE CENTRAL
0 0 0 7 7