Senior running back Jamir Jackson made the best of his viewpoint when the Pickerington High School Central football team beat Cincinnati Colerain 41-28 in a Division I state semifinal last season.
Although he was one of the team’s top rushers a year ago, Jackson did not play against the Cardinals because of a one-game suspension.
“I watched (last year’s game) close,” Jackson said. “They’re big and they’re tough, but I think we can definitely compete with them. They’re very physical. I think we’ll be ready.”
The Tigers get a rematch with Colerain in a state semifinal Friday, Nov. 23, at Piqua after beating Hilliard Davidson 20-13 in the Division I, Region 3 final Nov. 16 at Gahanna.
The semifinal winner plays Olentangy Liberty or Lakewood St. Edward for the state title on a date to be determined at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Central, which is 11-2 and is in a state semifinal for the third consecutive season, has looked championship-ready on defense for weeks now.
Offensively, meanwhile, the Tigers are coming off their best performance of the postseason.
With seniors Casey Bekemeier and Richard Turnbo Jr. leading an offensive line that has continued to progress after the Tigers lost their entire starting unit to graduation, Central rushed for 253 yards against a Davidson defense that gave up an average of just 10.5 points.
Jackson had 97 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries and quarterback Dem-eatric Crenshaw completed two of six passes for 10 yards and rushed for 91 yards on 12 carries with one touchdown.
The Tigers will try to continue their offensive surge against a Colerain defense that has given up just 97 points all season.
The Cardinals crushed Cincinnati Elder 42-0 in the Region 4 final Nov. 16 to improve to 13-0. It was their 11th consecutive game with a running clock.
Junior safety Deshawn Pace had nine tackles against Elder and has 55 on the season, and senior linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. had seven tackles and one sack against Elder and has 70 tackles, 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles on the season. Pace Jr. was named the Southwest District Defensive Player of the Year.
Senior linebacker Luke Bolden has 92 tackles and three interceptions, sophomore linebacker Michael Bess has 61 tackles and senior defensive back Jakari Patterson has four interceptions.
Bolden and senior defensive back Syncere Jones have committed to Miami University and senior linebacker Eric Phillips has committed to Cincinnati.
“This is our third regional championship in a row, so that’s really special and it’s a school record,” Jackson said. “We’ve been doubted all year long. Our offensive line, they’re young, and every game this year they’ve been blocking their butts off. We’re excited for (Colerain) and we’ll definitely be ready.”
Central, which was seeded sixth in Region 3, produced the only turnover of the regional final when Terry Simuel intercepted a pass downfield during the final minute when top-seeded Davidson was attempting to rally.
The Wildcats produced 224 yards rushing, but quarterback Carson Felicetty went just 3-for-11 passing for 61 yards, with most of the passing yardage coming after the Tigers had built a 20-10 lead on Jackson’s 13-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 32 seconds remaining.
Central’s final touchdown capped a 20-play, 95-yard drive.
C.C. Gordon had a pair of tackles for loss, Mike Dunlap had a sack and Karter Johnson, Jason Betts and Ty Hamilton were in on sacks on the Wildcats’ final possession.
Davidson, which also lost to Central 17-14 in overtime Sept. 21, finished 11-2.
The Tigers’ next task will be to slow down a Colerain offensive scheme that features the veer and option pitch led by senior quarterback Deante Smith-Moore, Pace Jr. and an offensive line featuring 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior T.J. Gonella.
Colerain rushed for 364 yards against Elder.
Smith-Moore, who completed all five of his pass attempts for 110 yards and one score and rushed for two touchdowns against Elder, is 46-for-75 passing for 951 yards with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions and has rushed for 1,138 yards and 15 touchdowns on 161 carries.
Pace Jr. rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a 93-yarder, against Elder and has 1,246 yards and 20 touchdowns on 137 carries on the season.
Another key offensive weapon for the Cardinals is senior running back J.J. Davis, who has 636 yards and nine touchdowns on 60 carries and 15 receptions for 389 yards and six scores.
“When (Colerain coach) Tom (Bolden) and I talked last year after the game, he knew they had a good team, but that doesn’t mean you get back here,” coach Jay Sharrett said.
“Who knows what can happen? We’ll prepare for them like we did last year and see if we can take them into the fourth quarter and stay within a score of them.
“Their players are enormous. They’ll veer you and dive-option and speed-pitch you. It’s very similar (to Davidson’s), but their players are bigger. You try to stay within a score and make some halftime adjustments, and you might steal a possession or they might muff a punt. There are different ways we’ve done it all season. (Against Davidson) we did it with a 90-some yard drive and that really took the air out of them.”