Hilliard Darby High School football coach John Santagata doesn't want to see a repeat of his team's last game when the Panthers play host to Thomas Worthington in an OCC-Cardinal Division contest Friday, Oct. 5.
Santagata is doing his best this week to prevent his team from overlooking the Cardinals, who are banged up and enter the game 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the league after losing to Dublin Jerome 33-0 on Sept. 28.
"Our guys will be informed minute-to-minute all week long that Thomas is a good football team capable of beating us," Santagata said. "They have moved the ball well and they have a lot of strengths. It is important that we play hard for all four quarters, starting at the opening kickoff."
The Panthers did not adhere to that message Sept. 28 when they had to rally to beat first-year Olentangy Berlin 24-21 to improve to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the league.
Darby trailed 21-7 at halftime and 21-14 entering the fourth quarter. The Panthers scored the winning points on a 6-yard touchdown run by Eric Williams with 26 seconds remaining. That drive was aided by a pass interference call against Berlin on a third-and-22 play.
"We survived, but it cannot happen again," Santagata said. "We weren't ready to play and I can't recall any of my teams being that flat before. We got a wake-up call, that's for sure. (Berlin) had 180 total yards at halftime and we only gave up four total yards in the second half. We didn't change anything. We just ... well I guess you'd say, gave them a little talking to at halftime."
Thomas Worthington is dealing with many injuries, but its young secondary has been banged up the most. The Cardinals were without senior Marcus Faison and junior James Gaiters against Hilliard Bradley in a 52-15 loss on Sept. 21 and sophomore Sheron Phipps was injured in the first quarter against the Jaguars.
In addition, quarterback Charlie Rhoades was injured against Jerome. Sophomore Isaac Settles, who has seen action in recent weeks, replaced Rhoades.
"We're simply not deep enough to overcome some of those losses, especially three of our starters in the secondary," Thomas coach Matt Zingery said. "Some of our younger guys are getting worn down and we're physically overmatched sometimes and that's the grind in OCC football. We've been running a lot of people in to play in our secondary and that has made things difficult.
"We've also been very poor at ball protection and self-inflicted wounds. We really have to clean that up, especially at the quarterback position. We've allowed three pick-6s and two or three scoop-and-scores in the past three weeks. I've never seen anything like it. Some of it is bad decisions, but most of it is just a lack of ball protection."
Darby has been led on defense by ends Grant Hollinger and Blayne Barnes, linebacker Nick Wile and backs Jaden Jones and Hayden Vroom. On offense, Santagata noted the play of linemen Michael Cornathan, Seth Schmidt and Scott Hartline, tight end Creed Galko and fullback Connor Jones.
Running back DiJahn Davis continues to lead Thomas and Zingery said Nathan Borghese is blossoming into a very good receiver. He also noted the play of receiver Habib Bundu on special teams, as well as punter Luke Coe.