Finishing drives with touchdowns never has been tougher the last two seasons for the Pickerington High School North football team than when it has played Pickerington Central.

The Panthers were limited to a season-low point total in a 31-14 loss to the Tigers in last year's Division I, Region 3 championship game and were held to just one score in a 16-7 loss to Central on Oct. 12.

The last time North was held to that point total was in Week 9 of the 2016 season when it lost to Lancaster 26-7.

Emphasizing the importance of capitalizing in the red zone is at the forefront again for North as it prepares to play host to the Golden Gales on Friday, Oct. 19, in a matchup with OCC-Ohio Division title and playoff implications.

"If you fall behind them, you're in trouble," coach Nate Hillerich said. "They're still the same Lancaster, running the same offense and same defense. They're super physical. I think the key is we have to score because they're going to put drives together. They're going to limit the number of ways you get the ball.

"We're dynamic and can score from anywhere. We never had a big pass play (against Central) and never got (our wide receivers) behind them. It was one of those nights where we couldn't finish a drive. We were inside their 20 twice and came out with no points."

Lancaster beat Gahanna 31-14 on Oct. 12, setting up the matchup of teams with 5-3 overall records.

The Gales, who beat Pickerington Central 31-30 on Oct. 5, lead the OCC-Ohio at 3-0 while the Panthers are 1-2.

North quarterback Mike Lowery has completed 166 of 247 passes for 2,047 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions, but he was held to 12-for-27 passing for just 47 yards with a touchdown -- 2 yards to tight end Tyler Foster -- and one interception against Central.

Wide receiver Chris Scott is among central Ohio's leaders in receptions with 46 for 747 yards with nine touchdowns, but he was limited to one catch for 7 yards.

The most encouraging stats for the Panthers against Central were running back Larry Martin rushing for 136 yards on 21 carries and that North outgained the Tigers 177-171 in total yards.

Another positive was the return of linebacker Ben Johnson, who had missed the previous two games but leads the team in tackles with 61 and has 13 tackles for losses and three sacks.

Against Gahanna, Lancaster quarterback Tyler Monk attempted just five passes, completing one for a 22-yard touchdown to Jake Richards, but he has thrown for 903 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season.

The Gales' rushing attack includes Richards (444 yards, 6 TDs), Lucas Gauerke (355 yards, 3 TDs) and Alex Widener (222 yards, 5 TDs). Wide receiver Casey Finck (18 catches, 452 yards, 6 TDs) is a deep threat for Lancaster.

"(Lancaster has) more speed than they did last year, that's for sure," Hillerich said. "They've got a receiver that's a playmaker, so he can stretch the field more than they normally do, and their secondary is more athletic.

"A couple penalties hurt us (against Central), but both of our defenses are so good at limiting the big play. Larry Martin ran the ball well. Ben Johnson played well, so I thought that was huge for our defense."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek