It remains to be seen whether the Pickerington High School Central football team's rematch with Clayton Northmont in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal Friday, Nov. 9, at Evans Stadium in Springfield will be more competitive than last year's matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
It wouldn't surprise coach Jay Sharrett, though, if the Thunderbolts put up more of a fight than they did last year when Central dominated its way to a 41-21 victory in Northmont's return to the postseason after a three-year absence.
"We don't get everybody's A game, we get everybody's A-plus game," Sharrett said. "We watch (teams) on film and they'll drop a pass or snap it over the punter's head, but then they come out and play like the Green Bay Packers against us, guys making one-handed catches, guys cracking field goals on us. If it's a perfect storm that beats you, you tip your hat to that."
The Central-Northmont winner plays top-seeded Hilliard Davidson or fourth-seeded Springfield in the regional final Nov. 16 at a site to be announced.
By all accounts, the second-seeded Thunderbolts look improved considering how they pulled away from one of central Ohio's top defensive teams, seventh-seeded Hilliard Darby, in their 42-20 first-round victory Nov. 2.
If nothing else, Northmont should be more seasoned after being taken to task by a Tigers team on its way to winning the state title last season.
The Thunderbolts are 10-1 with their only loss coming to fellow Region 3 playoff qualifier Huber Heights Wayne, 49-20 on Sept. 21.
Meanwhile, sixth-seeded Central survived its playoff opener, beating third-seeded and host Hilliard Bradley 14-13 on Nov. 2 to improve to 9-2.
The Tigers, whose losses are by a combined four points, trailed the Jaguars 13-0 at halftime but rallied in the second half, scoring the winning touchdown on a 93-yard fumble return by C.C. Gordon early in the fourth quarter.
Central was outgained 354-172 in total yards as quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw was limited to 29 yards passing, but the big play by Gordon, combined with Karter Johnson stopping Bradley quarterback Griffin Veil for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Tigers 22 late in the fourth quarter, helped the Tigers advance.
"I do feel confident about us going into the next round," senior wide receiver and defensive back Terry Simuel said.
"We're doing well as a whole. We just need the three sides of the ball - offense, defense and special teams - to play all together as a unit. We just need to get going much faster and we'll shut teams out much sooner in the game instead of it being a dogfight and trying to play catch-up. ... I do know we cannot take (Northmont) very lightly."
Central built a 24-0 lead in last year's matchup with the Thunderbolts, who were limited to 69 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Northmont has shown a steady running game led by Mike Franklin (186 rushes, 1,049 yards, 15 TDs) to complement what could be one of the better quarterbacks the Tigers will face this season in senior Miles Johnson.
Johnson has completed 166 of 259 passes for 2,532 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions, including going 20-for-23 for 318 yards with three touchdowns in the win over Darby.
Wide receivers Justin Golson (52 receptions, 949 yards, 14 TDs) and Jazz Keys (54 receptions, 720 yards, 5 TDs) have shown big-play ability.
Central was held to 54 yards of offense in the first half by Bradley before putting together a seven-play, 60-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter. Lorenzo Styles Jr. ran for 17 yards to the Jaguars 3 and Jamir Jackson ran for the touchdown on the next play.
Jackson finished with 69 yards on 16 carries and Crenshaw had 41 yards rushing.
Northmont's defense features a pair of high-profile college recruits in linebacker Jestin Jacobs (Iowa commit) and end Gabe Newburg (Michigan State commit) to go along with linebackers Aidan Reaman (93 tackles) and Shaun Myers (77 tackles) and safety Andrew Knick (64 tackles).
"Our guys know in these playoff games that if you can stay within a score, you've got a chance in the fourth quarter, and fortunately we pulled it out and get to play another week," Sharrett said. "(We) fought for every yard. It was a very good Bradley team. We're just glad to be going to round two and we'll see what happens."