The Reynoldsburg High School football team had lost nine of the 10 previous meetings against Pickerington North and appeared to be on its way to a 10th loss in the series Sept. 28.
But in the OCC-Ohio Division opener for both teams, the Raiders overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat the Panthers 33-31.
The comeback was aided by a 59-yard punt return by James Dean to set up Reynoldsburg’s third score and highlighted by a 90-yard interception return by Mershawn Rice for the go-ahead touchdown early in the final period.
Reynoldsburg is 6-0 for the first time since 1961, while Pickerington North lost its second consecutive close game and fell to 4-2.
“I knew our kids weren’t going to give up and that they wanted this too bad,” Raiders coach Buddy White said. “We knew we needed a score and the defense started getting stops. That interception by Mershawn was incredible.”
North took a 24-7 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Mike Lowery to Chris Scott with 21.8 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Raiders scored on their ensuing drive on a 7-yard touchdown run by MarcAnthony Gray with 11:29 remaining. The drive was extended by personal foul and pass interference penalties on the Panthers.
After forcing a punt on North’s next possession, Dean’s return moved the Raiders to the Panthers 13.
On third-and-12 from the North 15, Courtland Bullard ran for a touchdown to cut it to 24-21.
Then with 8:01 remaining, Lowery threw deep downfield on third-and-15 from the North 45 but was intercepted by Rice, who ran it back 90 yards to make it 27-24.
“I knew he was going to throw the ball and I just had to wait on it,” Rice said of his interception. “I took it all the way to the hole. I just needed to make a play for my team.”
North moved to the Raiders 26 on the next drive but Lowery was stuffed for an 11-yard loss by Jay Amburgey and then was intercepted again by Rice, who returned it to the Reynoldsburg 35.
On third-and-5 from the North 49, Bullard rumbled 47 yards to set up first-and-goal. Three plays later, Guy Cowans-Wright ran in for a touchdown to make it 33-24.
North scored on a hook-and-lateral on the first play of the next drive, with Jordan Lowery catching the ball 8 yards down field and pitching it Jaylon Baylor, who then ran 60 yards to the end zone. The Raiders recovered the onside kick, however, and ran out the clock.
The Panthers used a gadget play to score on their first play from scrimmage, with Lowery pitching to Jack Sawyer, who then threw downfield to Scott for a 71-yard touchdown.
The Raiders cut it to 10-7 with 13.2 seconds left in the first period when Michael Whatley hit Camby Goff for a 42-yard touchdown.
With 1:37 left in the first half, Lowery threw a perfect strike to the corner of the end zone to Scott to give the Panthers a 17-7 lead.
“They’re a great football team and they made a few more plays than we did,” North coach Nate Hillerich said.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final PICKERINGTON NORTH 10 7 7 7 31 REYNOLDSBURG
7 0 0 26 33
PN—Scott 71 pass from Sawyer (Pope kick)
PN—Pope 40 FG
R—Goff 42 pass from Whatley (Ca. Goff kick)
PN—Scott 17 pass from Lowery (Pope kick)
PN—Scott 8 pass from Lowery (Pope kick)
R—Gray 7 run (Ca. Goff kick)
R—Bullard 15 run (Ca. Goff kick)
R—Rice 90 interception return (kick failed)
R—Cowans-Wright 1 run (kick failed)
PN—Baylor 60 run (Pope kick)