After dissecting hours of Pickerington North's game film, Pickerington High School Central football coach Jay Sharrett had some basic numbers to share with his players in preparation of the matchup Friday, Oct. 12, at Gahanna.

They have nothing to do with Panthers senior quarterback Mike Lowery's 2,000 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, or even junior wide receiver Chris Scott's 45 receptions for 740 yards and nine scores.

They also aren't related to how the Tigers plan to handle the uncertainty regarding whether their No. 1 running back, senior Jamir Jackson, will be back after he rushed for 415 yards and five touchdowns over the first six games. He sat out a 31-30 loss to Lancaster on Oct. 5 because of a foot injury.

"You have to be prepared for how long the game is," Sharrett said. "Last year their quarterback would escape and get 15 yards, but it was still a pass play to start with. Some of those plays will take 14 or 15 seconds before the play really takes off. They do a good job of extending plays. You might play defense for 14 seconds and give up a 25-yard pass play. That's the mindset we've got to work on with our guys that if (Lowery) extends the play, you can't play pass coverage for 10-plus seconds or someone will get open."

Central takes a record of 6-1 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division into the matchup, which has been moved from Tiger Stadium to Gahanna because of what Sharrett calls an "unplayable field."

The Tigers have gone 11-3 all-time against the Panthers, including winning 24-21 in the regular season and 31-14 in the Division I, Region 3 final last fall.

Both teams again have league title and playoff aspirations.

North followed a pair of close losses by beating Grove City 42-10 on Oct. 5, improving to 5-2 overall and 1-1 in the league.

Coincidentally, Gahanna is the same field that Lowery called home the past two seasons before he transferred to North to rejoin a program he'd been a part of as a freshman. Central, which had its 18-game overall and 16-game league winning streaks snapped by Lancaster, defeated North 37-7 in 2015 and beat Lowery's Lions 20-18 in 2016 and 45-8 last season.

The Panthers had the district Offensive Player of the Year at quarterback last season in Jimmy Weirick, who threw for 34 touchdowns but also rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

Containing Lowery, who has just 35 rushing attempts but has been intercepted only five times while completing 154 of 220 attempts, is a different task for a defensive front that could be central Ohio's best with seniors DeWayne Carter and Karter Johnson on the line and senior Isaiah O'Connor and juniors Ty Hamilton and Dom Marasco at linebacker.

"We've played them four times in the last two years and I got to play them twice last year, and in both games they went into it with completely different defenses," North coach Nate Hillerich said. "People say they're aggressive because their kids are so physical. There are times they won't blitz at all. They'll take away your strengths and do whatever it takes to make you do what is not your best go-to thing on offense and defense. They play so hard and they're so physical that it causes pressure."

Hillerich expects another number -- whichever team wins the field-position battle -- to be a key factor.

North did not have senior linebacker Ben Johnson the past two games, but Hillerich said it's possible he could be available.

The return of Johnson would take pressure off sophomore lineman Jack Sawyer and senior lineman Dante Reed, who have 10.5 and 13.5 tackles for loss, respectively.

Central quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw has completed 39 of 76 passes for 777 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions and has rushed for 212 yards and six scores on 77 carries. Lancaster, though, intercepted Crenshaw twice.

If Jackson isn't able to play, the Tigers likely will rotate Lance Matthews, Sirron Smith and Nick Mosley at running back.

Mosley has only 24 carries but broke for a 92-yard touchdown against Lancaster.

Another key weapon against Lancaster was sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr., who had six receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

Senior Casey Bekemeier leads a Tigers offensive line that lost all of its 2017 starters to graduation.

Central lost sophomore Tyler Turnbull to what is likely a season-ending injury in a 27-13 win over Gahanna on Sept. 27. That likely will be the team's last game this season at Tiger Stadium.

"They're willing to run the ball three times in a row and punt it to you, and they know a team may lose yards against them because their defense is so good up front," Hillerich said. "They try to create turnovers, so it puts you in tough situations. It puts them in position where they can just take advantage.

"They've still got a good offensive line. It starts with their quarterback. The key is to not let him beat you with his legs and to try to get them into situations where they have to throw the ball."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

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