After beating Pickerington North 33-31 on Sept. 28 to put together its first 6-0 start since 1961, the Reynoldsburg High School football team endured what coach Buddy White compared to a "hangover" a week later.
The Raiders, who lost to Gahanna 10-7 on Oct. 5 for their only loss, are guarding against a repeat of that performance in their regular-season finale Thursday, Oct. 25, at Lancaster.
On Oct. 19, Reynoldsburg beat Pickerington Central 24-21 to end the Tigers' run of winning at least a share of 12 consecutive league championships and keep itself in the OCC-Ohio Division title race.
The Raiders are 8-1 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Ohio and would earn a share of the title if they beat the Golden Gales, who are 6-3 overall and 4-0 in the league.
"These kids know they're going for a championship," White said. "Championship and Reynoldsburg doesn't go together. Well, it's about to."
There might not be a hotter team in central Ohio than Lancaster, which lost its first three games but has won six in a row, including victories over Central (31-30 on Oct. 5), Gahanna (31-14 on Oct. 12) and North (35-21 on Oct. 19).
The Raiders defeated Lancaster 42-34 last season at home, but the Gales won 42-27 over Reynoldsburg in 2016 on their home field to earn the No. 8 seed for the Division I, Region 3 playoffs.
Another classic matchup between the programs took place in 2015 when Reynoldsburg won 49-42 in three overtimes on the way to its first playoff berth since 2001.
The last time the Raiders won at Lancaster was 2011, which was White's first season.
Rob Carpenter is in his 21st season as coach of the Gales, who have made 11 playoff appearances, including eight since he took over the program.
Reynoldsburg likely has locked up a home game for the Division I, Region 2 playoffs, but Lancaster likely must win to continue its season. The Gales were projected to be eighth in Division I, Region 3.
Although Lancaster hasn't altered its wing-T, run-first offense much during Carpenter's tenure, it has passed the ball efficiently with Tyler Monk at quarterback and Casey Finck showing big-play ability at wide receiver.
Monk is 50-for-101 passing for 1,060 yards with 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions and Finck has 21 receptions for 530 yards (a 25.2-yard average) and six scores.
During the win over North, the Gales finished with 394 yards of offense as Monk completed seven of 11 passes for 157 yards and Alex Widener rushed 29 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Widener has 352 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 78 carries and Jake Richards has 72 rushes for 521 yards and seven scores to lead the rushing attack.
"This means history for us," Raiders senior wide receiver and defensive back Camby Goff said. "(The win over Central) was all about big plays. Everything mattered, every inch, and our guys played hard. I feel like we're ready, but we've got to stay focused because Lancaster is a good team."
Goff has only 10 catches on the season, but he provided some of the biggest moments as the Raiders snapped a 16-game losing streak against Central.
He had three receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns on offense and 3.5 tackles and a fumble recovery that set up another score on defense.
Guy Cowans-Wright rushed 16 times for 96 yards against North and has 404 yards and seven touchdowns on 86 carries on the season. J'Vonte Edwards has 82 carries for 492 yards and three scores.
Quarterback Michael Whatley is 81-for-148 passing for 1,220 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Against Central, the Raiders limited quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw to 51 yards passing and 11 yards rushing on 15 carries as Dezman Cooper (six tackles, one sack), Breyon Eddings (five tackles), Cocy Goff (five tackles) and Jeremiah Burton (three tackles, forced fumble) led the defense.
"This was a special win," White said.
"They ain't seen nothing yet. We're going after the league championship next week, then we're going to the playoffs. Our goal is to win a regional championship, and this was one of the steps. We had to have a win like this. This is going to give us so much confidence going forward. We beat a hell of a team, and our kids were resilient."