DAYTON - Ahead by 10 points early in the second quarter of a Division I state semifinal Saturday in Welcome Stadium seemed to be a comfortable margin for the Pickerington High School Central football team.
The Tigers were unbeaten through 13 games and had held opponents to 7.7 points per game. Erasing a 10-point deficit against Central was a seemingly insurmountable task for a typical offense.
But Cincinnati Elder's offense isn't typical. The Panthers feature a 2,000-yard passer, three players with more than 650 yards receiving and a 1,000-yard rusher. Elder eventually made an appearance and rallied to defeat Central 24-10.
More importantly, the Panthers' defense awoke in the second half. Elder had trailed in each of its three previous playoff games and, of course, rallied. As a result, the defense did not get any credit. Instead, credit went to that not-so-typical offense.
"Teams haven't been respecting (our defense) lately," Elder junior linebacker David Peters said. "We shut out Central for three quarters and that should give us respect. We're going to Canton."
Central rushed for 94 yards in the first half on 19 carries and quarterback Nick Raymond added 63 yards passing. In the second half, Central did not reach positive total yardage until fewer than four minutes remained.
"In the second half we slowed down," Central's Jamie Wood said. "I don't know if I'd call us wearing down, but we were just never the same."
"Early on, honestly, I thought our defense would have rather been on the bus than playing the game," Elder coach Doug Ramsey said. "We looked like we were cold, like we didn't want to be there. Then they started playing the way we're capable of playing. We gave them 10, then we settled down and started tackling and doing the things we needed to do."
Elder's defense put its stamp on the game with interceptions by Zac Asman and Jonathan Taylor in the final three minutes.
According to Asman, the halftime break enabled the Panthers to correct themselves mentally.
"We went in the locker room and said we're not playing our game," Asman said. "We came out in that second half and had fun, smashed them in the mouth and wore their guys down. It's all about confidence."
In the second half, Central rushed for 38 yards and passed for 72. Elder took its first lead at 14-10 on a 22-yard touchdown run by backup running back Ben Coffaro with 3:46 left in the third quarter.
"We had a couple of opportunities that we scored on in the first half," Central coach Jay Sharrett said. "Then we let a couple of others slip away."
From there, the Panthers' defense settled down as the Central offense panicked.
"Once we got the lead it put pressure on them," Ramsey said. "They felt they needed to throw the ball around and that was to our benefit."
Don Delco is a sports writer for ThisWeek Community Newspapers . He can be reached at email@example.com or (740) 888-6074.