The best examples of the Pickerington High School Central football team's character this season might have taken place during the final two weekends of November.

The best examples of the Pickerington High School Central football team's character this season might have taken place during the final two weekends of November.

During the Division I, Region 3 championship game Nov. 18 at London, the Tigers rallied to score the final 10 points in a 17-14 win over Huber Heights Wayne -- the state runner-up each of the past two seasons -- that sent them to the state tournament for the fifth time.

Then against Cincinnati St. Xavier in a state semifinal Nov. 25 at Piqua, Central trailed 17-7 at halftime but came back to take leads of 21-20 and 27-26.

The Tigers ended up losing 29-27 to finish 12-2 overall, while the Bombers improved to 9-5 and will play Cleveland St. Ignatius for the state title Friday, Dec. 2, at Ohio State.

"This team has been resilient and relentless throughout the entire season, even the couple times when we had our backs up against the wall," coach Jay Sharrett said. "(St. Xavier is) solid up front and we knew it would be difficult to move them off the ball with the size advantage that they had on us. But when you get to this point of the playoffs, we have to deal with it, and I thought we dealt with it pretty well."

Central got three long touchdowns to hang with St. Xavier. With the Tigers trailing 20-7, senior quarterback Darius Coker hit senior running back Morgan Ellison for a 77-yard touchdown pass.

Junior linebacker Grey Brancifort then returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter to give the Tigers a 21-20 lead.

A 60-yard touchdown run by Ellison with 7 minutes, 39 seconds remaining gave Central a 27-26 lead, but Bombers kicker Kevin Rockwood made a 32-yard field goal with 2:38 left for the game's final points.

Central drove deep into St. Xavier territory on its final possession before turning the ball over on downs.

It was the final game for 23 seniors who helped the Tigers win at least a share of their 11th consecutive league championship. They went 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division to finish ahead of Lancaster (4-1), Pickerington North (3-2), Reynoldsburg (2-3), Gahanna (1-4) and Grove City (0-5).

Central was the third seed for the Region 3 playoffs and opened with a 35-14 win over sixth-seeded Springfield on Nov. 4. It then completed a season sweep of Pickerington North, beating the seventh-seeded Panthers 38-24 in the second round Nov. 11 after winning 17-14 in their league matchup Oct. 14.

"The legacy us seniors left for the returning players was to go hard, stay united as a team and always believe," Coker said. "We faced many teams this past year who were bigger and had more depth in their roster. ... We didn't back down from any of our opponents."

Coker, who shared OCC-Ohio Player of the Year honors with North's Jimmy Weirick and made honorable mention all-district, passed for 1,488 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 649 yards and eight touchdowns.

Ellison was first-team all-district and second-team all-league, finishing with 1,732 yards and 25 touchdowns rushing and hauling in his only touchdown reception in the loss to St. Xavier.

Other seniors who made first-team all-league were linebackers Kieren Douglas and Garon Howard and kicker Brandon Vollmer. The other seniors to make second-team all-league were defensive back Chance Esmont and defensive back and running back JerMycole Graham.

Howard was named second-team all-district, Douglas was special mention all-district and senior defensive lineman Antwan Williams was honorable mention all-district.

Douglas has committed to Army and Ellison has committed to Ohio University.

A strong junior class featuring first-team all-league honorees Trenton Gillison (TE), Xavier Henderson (DB/WR), Jeremiah Wood (DB/WR) and Brancifort should set the Tigers up well for next season.

Gillison had 25 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns and was first-team all-district.

Henderson had seven interceptions on defense and was named district Defensive Player of the Year. He also was the team's second-leading receiver behind Gillison with 17 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns.

Brancifort had three interceptions and was special mention all-district.

Junior Brody Egan (OL) and sophomore Terry Simuel (WR/DB) were second-team all-league, junior Jalen Mitchell (DB) was special mention all-league and junior Brandon Wilson (OL) was honorable mention all-league.

All five starters on the offensive line are eligible to return, including Egan and Wilson. The others are juniors Trey Madison, Tyler Poe and Ravon White.

Junior Tristan Peppers (P/WR/DB) handled the team's punting duties all season, had a fumble recovery on defense and finished with six receptions, including three for 42 yards against St. Xavier.

Junior Alex Morgan (WR) and sophomore DeWayne Carter (DL/WR) were others who played roles.

Freshman Demeatric Crenshaw and Mitchell each saw time at quarterback and should be among the candidates to take over for Coker next season, along with sophomores Jason Betts and Jacob Devore.

"No regrets, not with this team, not with these seniors," Sharrett said. "They gave us everything they had."

"I feel like we have a very talented team coming back," Wood said. "There's a lot of returning starters who have experience, so I think we'll have another great season (next fall)."

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