A pair of senior linebackers have helped the Hilliard Davidson High School football team retake its place among the area's elite.
Evan Annis and Ethan Royer, both of whom are third-year starters, are a big reason why the Wildcats are 4-1 entering their OCC-Cardinal Division opener Friday, Sept. 28, at Central Crossing.
"Those two guys are as consistent as there is," said coach Brian White, whose team is looking to rebound from a 17-14 overtime loss to defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central on Sept. 21. "Those guys have certainly been the epitome of consistency over the past three years."
Royer, who plays the Mike linebacker position, leads the Wildcats' 50 shade defense with 54 tackles, while Annis, who plays the Sam linebacker, is second with 52. Davidson is allowing an average of 9.6 points per game and has posted two shutouts.
"With Evan and I being the two three-year starters, we try to get everybody locked in and try to get everybody focused, so we're all flying to the ball," Royer said. "We try to stay as organized as possible and try to stay fundamentally sound. We've realized as time has gone on how important that is."
Royer, who also sees time at fullback as a blocker in the team's triple-option offense, was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district last season when the Wildcats went 5-5 and missed the Division I playoffs for the first time since 2007. Annis, who also plays tight end, was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
"It's been awesome getting to play around such great teammates," Annis said. "When we were sophomores having Bosston Nolty around and when we were freshmen we had the opportunity to shadow guys like Ryan Tuchow. Last year didn't go as we wanted to, but we learned about ourselves and how to play and what type of leaders we need to be so this year we can be as successful as possible."
Royer and Annis both plan on playing at the collegiate level, but neither has made a college decision. Their focus right now is on helping the Wildcats win the OCC-Central championship and qualify for the playoffs.
According to White, both players will leave their mark on the program.
"We haven't had too many kids start for three years here and they're certainly two guys who are starting at extremely difficult positions for three straight years," White said.
Davidson has dominated the series against Central Crossing, which improved to 2-3 with a 30-0 win over Newark on Sept. 21. The Wildcats won last year's matchup 40-0 and are 11-1 all-time against the Comets, whose lone win came in 2014 (21-20 in overtime).
Davidson led visiting Central 14-7 late in the game, only to see the Tigers rally for the victory.
Central, which improved to 5-0, tied the game with a 24-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw to Jaquwon Crawford on fourth-and-8 with 1 minute, 26 seconds remaining.
The Tigers won the contest with a 21-yard field goal by Drew Bookman in overtime. The winning kick came after Central's Terry Simuel recovered a fumble by Jordan Hicks on the Wildcats' first play of overtime.
"With us, there's no coming close. It's do or do not," Annis said. "Coach White is on us about getting better and finding ways to improve because league play starts this week. The main goal is to win the league and make the playoffs."
Davidson and Central could meet again in the Region 3 playoffs. Entering Week 6, the Tigers were projected to be first in the region, while the Wildcats were projected to be sixth. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
"You have to put it behind you as players and coaches and, if we don't do that real fast, we're going to be up for extreme disappointment this week, because I think Central Crossing is a really good team," White said. "I know they don't have the record to show it, but they lost to two good teams (Reynoldsburg and Marion-Franklin)."