There’s a measure of familiarity surrounding the central Ohio high school football teams that have reached the fourth week of the playoffs.
Defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central is starting to look like it again is ready to go the duration and Olentangy Liberty also has returned to a state semifinal, where its season ended each of the past two years.
Eastmoor Academy and Johnstown haven’t reached this round for several years, but Warriors coach Jim Miranda was on the sideline when his team was a state runner-up in 2008 and Johnnies coach Mike Carter was leading the program in 2011 when it lost in a state semifinal.
One of the state’s all-time winningest coaches is Licking Valley’s Randy Baughman, and he has a team in a state semifinal for the first time since 2008 but the seventh time overall.
Here are five things we expect in the state semifinals:
1. Liberty gets another shot at a northeast Ohio power in its third consecutive state semifinal appearance.
On Nov. 23, the Patriots get another chance to reach a Division I state championship game when they play Lakewood St. Edward at Arlin Field in Mansfield.
Liberty is 9-4 and will enter its matchup as the underdog, similarly to a season ago when it gave Mentor all it could handle in a 27-21 loss.
Expect something similar this time considering the toughness the Patriots have shown while winning their third consecutive Region 2 title.
In a 21-7 win over Dublin Coffman on Nov. 16, Mitchell Okuley passed for 172 yards and rushed for three touchdowns and Grant Wilson had two interceptions to lead the way.
2. Central knows exactly what it’s getting into in its state semifinal matchup against Cincinnati Colerain.
It might be a good thing for the Region 3 champion Tigers that they’re coming off a 20-13 victory Nov. 16 over Hilliard Davidson, an option-based team that they also beat during the regular season.
Central’s next opponent, Colerain, also uses a form of the veer-option running game but could provide a tougher task because it is bigger up front than the Wildcats.
The Tigers are 11-2 heading into their matchup Nov. 23 at Piqua against the Cardinals, who are 13-0 and coming off a 42-0 win over Cincinnati Elder on Nov. 16.
Central beat Colerain 41-28 in a state semifinal last season.
3. Defense will enable Eastmoor to go toe-to-toe with its next opponent regardless of its health.
The Warriors have been battling injuries to several of their playmakers, including senior running back Savon Edwards, but that didn’t prevent them from knocking off No. 1 seed Hartley 19-14 on Nov. 9 and surging Thornville Sheridan 20-14 on Nov. 16 in the Division III, Region 11 title game.
Over its last seven games, Eastmoor has given up an average of 8.3 points.
The Warriors and Chagrin Falls Kenston will take 12-1 records into their matchup Nov. 23 at New Philadelphia. Kenston will provide one of the most balanced attacks Eastmoor has faced after it produced 212 yards passing and 147 rushing in a 33-7 blowout of Canfield in the Region 9 title game Nov. 16.
4. Johnstown is the type of team that could give defending Division V state champion Wheelersburg trouble.
The Pirates are 12-1 and have looked every bit as good as last season when they won the Division V state title, cruising through their regular-season schedule after a Week 2 loss to Hartley and beating Middletown Madison 24-16 on Nov. 17 for the Region 20 title.
Johnstown, which crushed Byesville Meadowbrook 45-14 on Nov. 17 for the Region 19 title, has played the toughest schedule of any of the remaining teams in Division V. The Johnnies are 12-1, having beaten Division IV state semifinalist Licking Valley as well as three Division II teams and two Division III programs during the regular season.
The teams will match up Nov. 24 at Jackson.
5. Licking Valley is riding a wave of momentum that doesn’t look ready to end.
Although it was just the seventh seed in Division IV, Region 15, Licking Valley has blown out its three playoff opponents, including top-seeded St. Clairsville 30-0 on Nov. 17 at Zanesville.
Licking Valley finished with 355 yards rushing and 473 total yards as Connor McLaughlin rushed for 230 yards and three scores.
The Panthers are 10-3 and play Nov. 24 at Dover against Girard, which is 12-1 and coming off a 43-18 win over Hubbard on Nov. 17 in the Region 13 final as quarterback Mark Waid rushed for 337 yards and passed for 110.