On one hand, Westerville South football coach Matthew Christ was thrilled about his team's reaction to a 35-21 win at Thomas Worthington on Sept. 13.

The Wildcats have set high standards during a 3-0 start, one that has allowed them to match their win total from all of last season and become increasingly optimistic about the direction of the program.

But a few big plays allowed by the defense bothered the Wildcats last week, and they plan to use that motivation to continue improving as they prepare for a Friday, Sept. 20, visit to Upper Arlington.

"One of the things I'm most excited about is that there still ways to get better even when we win and the guys have identified that. (On Sept. 13,) we gave up a few big passes at crucial times and a few big run plays and we weren't happy about that," Christ said. "I want them to enjoy when we win. There are only so many chances to do that in a season. But I'm also glad that they aren't satisfied and always know that we can get better."

South will seek its first 4-0 start since 2012 against a Golden Bears team that comes in at 1-2 after a 30-7 loss at Division II power Cincinnati Winton Woods on Sept. 13. UA has won two of the past three games in the series, including 37-29 last year and 27-0 in 2016 sandwiched around a 26-0 win for the Wildcats in 2017, but those came under previous coach Joel Cutler.

First-year Bears coach Jeremey Scally has implemented an option-based offense that operates both from under center and out of the shotgun and is led by quarterback Jake Leve and running backs Eli D'Herete and Chris Schweisthal.

Schweisthal had UA's only touchdown against Winton Woods, hauling in a 35-yard pass from Leve in the second quarter to give the Bears a 7-3 halftime lead.

"We held on in the first half and took advantage of a few opportunities, (but) we couldn't keep Winton Woods off the field in the second half," Scally said.

"We're talking about being close again after a loss and that's not what we want."

South has been led by running back Michael Mansaray, a senior who has amassed 691 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on 69 carries and also has one touchdown as a receiver. Quarterback Peter Pedrozo has completed 37 of 56 passes for 540 yards and four touchdowns.

"(Mansaray) is all-state caliber. He'll run around you and right over you. If you're one-on-one with him, more often than not, you'll lose that matchup," Scally said. "They have a good offensive line and I like how effective (Pedrozo) is. I've noticed their athleticism on special teams, too. They're not hiding anybody on special teams, for sure."

Third-year starting tackle Sean McRae helps anchor the Bears' offensive line. Junior linebacker Nick Utgard is among the leaders of a UA defense that also features a handful of two-way players, including defensive backs Shaun DuPont and Liam Keethler.

"We're not as familiar with them as we've been the past few years, but I saw them scrimmage Pickerington North and I was impressed," Christ said. "They run the option, but they run it from a lot of different looks that will test your defense. Their (front seven) is probably the strength of their defense. We'll have to slow them down up front.

"As good as Michael has been, though, if we need to throw the ball 30 times in a game to win, I think we have the quarterback and receiving corps to do that."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave