Shortly after the top-seeded Pickerington High School Central football team lost 13-6 to second-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a Division I, Region 3 final last Saturday at Upper Arlington, some of the Tigers wept and hugged their teammates.

Shortly after the top-seeded Pickerington High School Central football team lost 13-6 to second-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a Division I, Region 3 final last Saturday at Upper Arlington, some of the Tigers wept and hugged their teammates.

Others, such as junior offensive/defensive lineman Jacoby Boren, were visibly stunned as they carried their gear to the bus after the game.

The Tigers, who won a Division II regional title in 2006 before losing to Piqua 26-7 in the state title game and won a Division I regional title in 2008 before losing to Cincinnati Elder 24-10 in a state semifinal, finished 11-1.

The Wildcats, who also defeated Central 17-7 last year en route to winning their second state title in four seasons, improved to 13-0.

"What's sad is everybody thought we were going to be a state championship team, and it's hard to believe that our season is over," Boren said. "This team was for sure as good as the one I played on in 2008, or maybe even better, because we have a lot more depth this year. This game just came down to a few key plays here and there, and unfortunately, those plays didn't go our way."

The Tigers' offense made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Central, which had rushed for 2,657 yards on 431 carries entering the game, had zero rushing yards on nine carries in the first half, thanks in part to three sacks.

Even worse, quarterbacks Grant Hammond and Nick Jensen-Clagg were a combined 0-for-3 passing, with one interception each.

The Tigers, who fell behind 13-0 at halftime, turned the ball over only seven times in their other 11 games.

Meanwhile, penalties on Central's defense helped along each of Davidson's first two scoring drives.

Early in the first quarter, Central safety Eilar Hardy tackled Alex Mickley right at the first-down marker on a third down play, but Davidson was awarded a first down at Central's 49-yard line after Hardy was flagged for a personal foul. Thirteen plays later, Davidson quarterback Jimmy Curtis scored on a 1-yard run to put Davidson ahead 7-0.

On Davidson's next drive, linebacker J.J. Chowoe was flagged for running into Davidson punter D.J. Detmer on a fourth-and-4 play, giving the Wildcats a first down at Central's 27. Eight plays later, Detmer booted a 32-yard field goal to make it 10-0.

"There were some tough penalties that really hurt us," Sharrett said. "That personal foul really jump-started their first drive. We made some mistakes on the offensive side of the ball, too. But no one panicked at halftime. Our kids came back out there, ready to play four quarters."

The Tigers' defense, which allowed an average of only 4.3 points during Central's first 11 games, returned to form in the second half, limiting Davidson to 47 yards and only one first down.

Central's offense also rebounded, putting together an 11-play, 65-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, which was capped by a 2-yard run by Hammond.

With Hammond and Jensen-Clagg combining to complete 11 of 19 passes for 112 yards in the second half, the Tigers moved the ball into Davidson's territory two other times only to be denied.

On a fourth-and-1 play at Davidson's 18 early in the fourth quarter, Tyler "Speedy" Hammond was stopped an inch short of the first down marker by a swarm of Wildcats.

Jensen-Clagg also completed passes of 25, 9 and 15 yards to Tamani Carter to move the ball to Davidson's 32 late in game, but was sacked by Keith Heitzman as time expired.

"Our quarterbacks were just overthrowing the ball in the first half, but we got them settled down and they did a good job in the second half," Sharrett said. "Our kids fought and fought to get back in it, and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game in the final minute. Our kids are disappointed right now, but one thing I'm proud of is we never quit."