After being one of central Ohio's leaders in interceptions last season with seven, Mark Lee of the Northland High School football team rarely has been challenged by opposing passing games this fall.
He didn't have any interceptions through six games, but the senior cornerback has made his presence felt in numerous other ways for a defense that has given up a combined 28 points in four City League-North Division games.
"Nobody's thrown my way at all," Lee said. "I try to make big plays like tackles since they're not throwing my way. I want to get a lot of big hits in so they can't go my way at all."
The Vikings feature senior Jesse Prewitt III as their other starting cornerback, with senior Brian Dean and junior Rasi Bailey among the other key players in the secondary.
When also including senior running back John Branham Jr. and junior quarterback Kalil Branham, Northland has a group of athletes that stacks up with any in the City-North as well as in Division II, Region 7.
The Vikings are 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the league and clinging to playoff hopes in Region 7, where they were projected to be 12th this week. The top eight teams in each region make the playoffs.
Northland travels Friday, Oct. 12, to play Dayton Ponitz, which picked up its first victory Oct. 5 when it beat Cincinnati Gamble Montessori 28-6 to improve to 1-6.
Also remaining on the Vikings' schedule are games Oct. 19 at East, which is 2-5 overall and 1-3 in the City-North, and Oct. 26 at home against Beechcroft, which is 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the league.
Northland shared the City-North title last season with Beechcroft and Mifflin, but the Punchers are just 2-5 overall and 2-2 in the league this year.
The only other City-North team along with Northland and Beechcroft that has a winning record is Centennial, which is 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the league. The Stars lost to the Cougars 35-0 on Sept. 14.
The Vikings have won five games in a row, including a 60-0 win over Linden-McKinley on Oct. 5 as Branham Jr. rushed for four touchdowns and Prewitt III had a touchdown reception and a punt return for a score.
Northland lost to Zeeland (Michigan) West 28-27 on Aug. 24 and Whitehall 31-28 on Aug. 31.
"We've made some big improvements," Lee said. "I was happy we got those two losses out of the way first so we'd have things to learn and win out for the rest of the season."
The 6-foot, 170-pound Lee also has been a key contributor on offense for a wide receiver corps that also features Josh Moore and Prewitt III.
Lee, who had 10 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown through six games, has committed to play for Eastern Michigan. Prewitt III also has a scholarship offer to play for the Broncos, while Kalil Branham has committed to Michigan and Branham Jr. is mulling numerous offers.
After breaking his right thumb during the opening week of his freshman season and missing the next two months, Lee got an interception that season after returning to action despite wearing a cast.
He elected not to play football as a sophomore while focusing on competing for the Vikings' boys basketball team before returning last fall to make a major impact.
"He's made some plays," coach Brian Staats said. "As opposed to last year, people know who he is this year, so when we're on defense, people tend to stay away from him and he's not getting as many chances. Offensively, it's kind of the same. You've got to recognize where he is. It's a little bit bigger of a challenge because he's getting more attention from other people, but he's still making plays."
Bulldogs, Scots set for City-South clash
Because of a school incident, last year's matchup between the Walnut Ridge and South football teams was canceled.
On Friday, Oct. 12, the Scots will play host to the Bulldogs in a matchup of teams that are 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the City-South.
Both teams' only loss came against Eastmoor Academy, which beat the Bulldogs 47-6 on Sept. 14 and defeated the Scots 26-20 on Sept. 21.
The winning team will add much-needed points to their playoff resume.
Despite their overall records, South is just 15th in Division III, Region 11 in computer points and Walnut Ridge is only 15th in Division II, Region 7.
The Scots have one of the area's most efficient offenses with senior quarterback Isaiah Murphy leading the way. He has completed 74 of 104 passes for 1,306 yards with 19 touchdowns and just one interception. Javarus Leach has rushed for 565 yards and 10 touchdowns on 47 carries and Sincere Staples has 514 yards and seven touchdowns on 67 rushes. Kaylyn Anderson has 17 receptions for 395 yards and three touchdowns and Qian Magwood has 14 catches for 372 yards and seven scores.
Defensively, Jamarius Dinkins has seven tackles for loss and three sacks, Julius Wood has 2.5 sacks and Anderson has three interceptions.
South's top playmakers are Haisaun Martin (QB) Daivion Greene-Tucker (RB/DB) and Daquine Petty (RB/LB).
City finals slated for soccer, volleyball
The City League boys soccer championship game will be held Thursday, Oct. 11, at Mapfre Stadium, with Mifflin facing West.
The Punchers tied Northland at 3 on Sept. 13 but held the tiebreaker to represent the City-North because the Vikings had competed in the City final more recently.
Also on Oct. 11 at Mapfre Stadium, Centennial and Whetstone will play for the City girls soccer title.
In girls volleyball, Eastmoor was 13-0 in the City-South before facing Marion-Franklin on Oct. 9 and will play Saturday, Oct. 13, at Whetstone or Centennial in the City title match.