Even though the Pickerington High School Central football team had its bid for a second consecutive Division I state championship end with a 28-14 loss to Cincinnati Colerain in a state semifinal Nov. 23 at Piqua, there's no questioning the significance of the current run of success the program is enjoying.
The Tigers have made 13 consecutive playoff appearances and have been to the postseason in all but one of the 16 seasons since the school district split into two high schools, but this marks the first time they've been to at least a state semifinal in three consecutive seasons.
Central finished 11-3 overall this fall and has gone 37-6 since the beginning of the 2016 season, including winning OCC-Ohio Division titles in 2016 and '17 before settling for third (3-2) in the league this year behind co-champions Lancaster and Reynoldsburg (both 4-1).
The Tigers were seeded sixth in the Region 3 playoffs but beat three higher seeds, including top-seeded Hilliard Davidson 20-13 in the regional final Nov. 16, to advance to a state semifinal for the seventh time.
"For what this team did after we had a couple of bang-ups in the season, for them to rally and win that regional championship and take Colerain, who I wouldn't be surprised if they go on and win the state championship, to the fourth quarter, I couldn't be more proud of this team," coach Jay Sharrett said. "I couldn't be prouder of this senior class. We'll heal up from this, but we'll also learn from it and we'll do it again."
With the expected return of players such as juniors Demeatric Crenshaw (QB), Ty Hamilton (LB) and Dom Marasco (LB) and sophomore Lorenzo Styles Jr. (WR/DB), the Tigers should be in the mix for league and regional titles again next season.
Against Colerain, senior Jamir Jackson scored on a 2-yard run with 1 minute, 29 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the Tigers' deficit to 14-7.
After the Cardinals answered with a 3-yard touchdown run by Ivan Pace Jr. with 8:33 remaining for a 21-7 lead, Crenshaw hit Styles Jr. for a 25-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to keep the Tigers in the game.
Colerain sealed the outcome with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Deante Smith-Moore with 1:16 remaining. The Cardinals face Lakewood St. Edward in the state final at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
"We still have (last year's title) for the rest of our lives," Crenshaw said. "I'm ready for next season. We see what it feels like to go out, so now, hopefully, next year we'll come out even harder."
Crenshaw completed 11 of 16 passes for 99 yards against Colerain and finished the season 71-for-139 passing for 1,115 yards with 14 touchdowns while also rushing for 499 yards and eight touchdowns on 164 carries.
Jackson rushed for 953 yards and 14 touchdowns on 170 carries as both he and Crenshaw were named second-team all-district.
Styles, who was the Tigers' leader in receptions and totaled six touchdowns, also was second-team all-district. He had four catches for 31 yards against Colerain.
Earning first-team all-district honors were seniors Terry Simuel (WR/DB/KR/PR), DeWayne Carter (DL/TE) and Karter Johnson (DL/TE). Senior Isaiah O'Connor (LB) was second-team all-district, while seniors Jaquwon Crawford (DB/WR) and Justin Maynard (P) were special mention and Hamilton and junior Drew Bookman (K) were honorable mention.
Carter, Crenshaw, Johnson, Maynard and Simuel were first-team all-league, with Crawford, Hamilton, O'Connor and Styles Jr. making second team. Senior Lance Matthews (RB) was special mention all-league and senior Keaton Middendorf (WR) was honorable mention.
Marasco had 15 tackles against Colerain and was the Tigers' leading tackler on the season, with Hamilton also finishing among the team leaders in tackles.
Sophomore William Dukes is another who contributed at linebacker.
Sophomores Nick Mosley and Sirron Smith should be the top returning running backs after both saw action in some offensive packages, while sophomore Tyler Turnbull is eligible to return at H-back after starting the season in that role but missing the season's second half with an injury.
Juniors Collin Brice, Connor Burgess, Alec Hammer and Anthony Lampron and sophomores Garrett Meek and Keaton Snyder are eligible to return on an offensive line that will lose seniors Casey Bekemeier and Richard Turnbo III.
"It helps that most of our offense will be coming back next year, and this gave them more experience," Marasco said. "It also gives the new guys a taste of the playoffs and makes them hungry to get back to the playoffs again. We're on a mission to continue this tradition. We lose great players every year, but our coaches stay the same. They push us in the offseason to get bigger, stronger and faster. We're all working hard for the same goal: to get that state championship ring again."