Plenty will be on the line when the Dublin Scioto High School football team visits Hilliard Darby on Friday, Oct. 26, to close out the regular season.
It is a must-win game for both teams in terms of qualifying for the postseason. Both teams are on the proverbial playoff bubble, as Darby was projected to be eighth in this week's Division I, Region 3 computer ratings and Scioto was projected to be ninth in Division II, Region 8. The top eight teams in each region make the playoffs.
According to joeeitel.com, the Irish would clinch a playoff berth with a win, but the Panthers need help in addition to a victory.
"Well, it's a little like a play-in for the playoffs," said Darby coach John Santagata, whose team has won five games in a row. "But we've more or less felt like that since we lost our second game (16-8 to Hilliard Bradley on Sept. 14). Scioto has been in the same boat since their second loss (46-17 to Bradley on Sept. 28)."
Darby and Scioto both enter the contest 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal, tied for second in the league behind Bradley (6-0). The winner would share the league title with the Jaguars if Bradley loses to Delaware on Oct. 26.
"Darby runs the ball very well and is extremely physical on both sides of the ball, so they're a typical Darby team," said Scioto coach Karl Johnson, whose team has won three games in a row and six of its last seven. "That's no surprise. These are teams that are very familiar with each other, so there won't be any secrets.
"This game is going to come down to who controls the line of scrimmage and executes their game plan. For us, that means winning the turnover battle and making explosive plays, whether that's in the running game or passing game."
Scioto, which is averaging 32.1 points, is led by quarterback Kyron Rogers, who is 120-for-210 passing for 1,805 yards with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions. Other playmakers include receivers Tobias Thomas (55 receptions, 578 yards, 5 TDs) and Kenyon Pannell (46 receptions, 778 yards, 12 TDs) and running back Pete Hrelec (749 yards rushing, 8 TDs).
"We would like to run the ball effectively and get the ball into our playmakers' hands," said Johnson, whose team is coming off a 39-10 win over Thomas Worthington on Oct. 19. "Defensively, we need to limit their long drives and force some three-and-outs. We can't give them a short field, so we'll need to win in special teams to do that."
Darby, which is allowing 14.1 points per contest, is led on defense by linebackers Nick Wile (107 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss) and Alex Briggs (79 tackles, 7 tackles for loss), linemen Grant Hollinger and Blayne Barnes and defensive backs Jaden Jones and Hayden Vroom.
"They have a good passing game with (Rogers, Pannell and Thomas) and they can nickel and dime you down the field, but they can hit their deep shots if you're not careful, too," Santagata said. "We need to sustain drives, move the sticks and keep those guys off the field as much as possible. We can't be making mistakes offensively, like getting penalties or turning the ball over."
The Panthers have committed only seven turnovers this season, but one came deep in their own territory during a 31-28 win over Delaware on Oct. 19, setting up a Pacers touchdown.
Darby had another rarity against Delaware, as Evan Grose caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jack Stultz in the fourth quarter to score the decisive points. It was just the Panthers' second touchdown pass of the season.
Darby, which is averaging 17 points, is led offensively by fullback Connor Jones (171 carries, 1,090 yards, 9 TDs) and Stultz (116 carries, 454 yards, 6 TDs).
The Irish, who are allowing 23.1 points per game, are led on defense by linebacker Logan Williams (89 tackles), lineman Cayson Pfeiffer (57 tackles, 6 sacks) and Thomas in the secondary (50.5 tackles).