Quarterback play proved to be decisive Aug. 24 between Pickerington North and Olentangy Liberty in a matchup of football programs that made it deep into the Division I high school playoffs a season ago.
During the Patriots’ opening series, senior three-year starting quarterback Mitchell Okuley left the game with an injury and did not return.
On the flip side, senior Mike Lowery showed his experience throughout his return game with the Panthers.
Lowery — who started for North as a freshman and at Gahanna the last two seasons before moving back to North this fall — completed 20 of 31 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns as his team beat the Patriots 17-0.
“It was Week 1 and there was a lot of cramping, but (the offense) got it going out there,” North coach Nate Hillerich said. “They were in rhythm.”
The Panthers forced three turnovers during the fourth quarter to help the lead stand.
Senior wide receiver Jaylon Baylor helped Lowery get re-acclimated to the Panthers’ program, finishing with seven catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
The Panthers took a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first quarter when Lowery connected with Baylor for a 25-yard touchdown.
That score completed a 10-play, 98-yard drive.
“Jaylon’s been a weapon for North the past two to three years now,” Lowery said. “He’s a big weapon.”
Okuley, who threw for 31 touchdowns as his team reached a state semifinal last season, rushed for 7 yards on his team’s third play from scrimmage and completed a 22-yard pass on the next play but went down after throwing incomplete on third-and-10 two plays later.
“We’ll see,” coach Steve Hale said of Okuley’s injury. “He’s a three-year starter, but we can’t make any excuses.”
With 8:37 left in the first half, Lowery hit Baylor for a 48-yard touchdown, but it was called back by a holding call.
Corbin Parrish stepped in for Okuley and helped the Patriots produce three first downs on their second possession of the third quarter, but North’s Ben Johnson tackled Parrish 1 yard short of first down on fourth-and-4 from the Panthers 32.
On the next possession, Lowery hit Baylor for a 36-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4 to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead.
Tim Cheatwood and Bobby Trim both had interceptions and Colby Baker a fumble recovery during the fourth quarter for the Panthers.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final OLENTANGY LIBERTY 0 0 0 0 0 PICKERINGTON NORTH
7 0 7 3 17
PN—Baylor 25 pass from Lowery (Pope kick)
PN—Baylor 36 pass from Lowery (Pope kick)
PN—Pope 37 FG