Two OCC-Ohio Division football teams that believe they've gotten their seasons on track heading into league play will meet Friday, Oct. 4, when Pickerington North plays host to Reynoldsburg.
Despite starting 5-0 for the second consecutive season, escaping with a 17-15 victory over Central Crossing on Sept. 20 was an eye-opener for the Raiders. They responded with a 35-14 victory over previously undefeated Westerville South on Sept. 27.
The Panthers are just 2-3, but both of their victories have come against teams that are 4-1, including a 29-27 win at Dublin Coffman on Oct. 4. Two of North's losses were to teams that are 5-0.
"The energy should be pretty live," Raiders senior wide receiver Shon Strickland said. "We've both got a lot of confidence right now, but we've got to be humble about it and go into it 0-0."
North took a 29-21 lead over Coffman with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left on a 7-yard run by junior Jack Sawyer, who has settled in as a multi-threat quarterback since taking over full-time at that position in Week 3.
Coffman scored with 36 seconds left to make it 29-27 but failed to convert on a two-point conversion run as the Panthers held on.
"That was a huge win, just what we needed," North coach Nate Hillerich said. "With some of the injuries we've had and kind of the quarterback carousel we've had, we really just slowed the game down and tried to limit Coffman's possessions and we did that. We created turnovers, didn't turn the ball over and we were able to take care of business."
Sawyer threw for 169 yards and two touchdowns in addition to his scoring run and is 25-for-54 passing for 384 yards with four touchdowns on the season. He also has rushed for 201 yards and four scores.
North senior wide receiver Chris Scott had eight receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns against the Shamrocks and has 34 catches for 405 yards and five scores on the season.
Panthers junior running back Idris Lawrence had one of his best games of the season, rushing for 99 yards against Coffman to give him 288 on the season. He also is North's second-leading receiver with 19 catches for 197 yards.
Reynoldsburg will counter defensively with a unit that forced six turnovers against South, with Breyon Eddings, Deshawn Mattox and Isaiah Thomas each having an interception.
The Raiders' quarterback rotation of senior Michael Whatley (9-for-14 passing, 143 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore Dijon Jennings (9-for-12, 106 yards, 1 TD) was efficient against the Wildcats.
Strickland had eight catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns to give him 21 receptions for 454 yards (21.6 average) and six scores on the season. Senior wide receiver James Dean has 22 receptions for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
The Raiders are averaging 206 yards passing per game with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions between Whatley and Jennings.
Senior MarcAnthony Gray, who had 54 yards rushing against South, has 315 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries on the season to lead Reynoldsburg's stable of running backs.
Sawyer has 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss at end for a North defense that also features senior lineman Lawson Vaughn (39 tackles, 5 tackles for loss), senior linebackers Colby Baker (24 tackles, 6 tackles for loss) and Javontae Robinson (31 tackles, 6 tackles for loss) and senior defensive back Josiah Williams (2 interceptions).
"I feel good about being 5-0, but I know how our league is," Raiders coach Buddy White said.
"Our league is a bear and I don't care what the records are. We learned (against Central Crossing) that you can't look at records. We learned a valuable lesson."