Of the three area football teams that won regional championships this weekend, two put together game-winning, fourth-quarter drives while the other removed any doubt early on that it was ready to avenge its only loss.
There were numerous storylines that ultimately played out the way Hartley, Harvest Prep and Pickerington Central were hoping for.
Add in Licking Valley in Division IV, West Jefferson in Division V and Howard East Knox in Division VI, and the Central District will be well represented in the state semifinal round.
Here are five things we learned in the regional finals:
1. Central is headed to its fourth consecutive state semifinal.
As coach Jay Sharrett said, his team can “just flip a switch” in the postseason.
The second-seeded Tigers did so again Nov. 22 in the Division I, Region 3 final, as they built a 23-0 halftime lead on their way to a 23-7 victory over fourth-seeded Groveport at DeSales.
While Central’s defense has allowed an average of just 6.9 points over the last seven games, the Tigers outgained the Cruisers 277-22 in the first half on their way to avenging their only loss. Groveport won the regular-season matchup 19-14 on Sept. 20.
Central is 12-1 and takes a nine-game winning streak into its state semifinal against Mentor on Nov. 29 at Canton GlenOak.
2. Hartley crossed a major barrier with its latest regional title.
With a 27-14 victory over second-seeded Jonathan Alder on Nov. 22 in the Division III, Region 11 final at Hilliard Darby, the top-seeded Hawks advanced to a state semifinal for the seventh time in 10 seasons and 10th time overall.
It was just five years ago, though, that Hartley was in a state semifinal in Division V. The program won Division IV state titles in 2010, ’15 and ’16 and was the Division V state runner-up in 2013.
In their latest regional final win, the Hawks scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 5-yard run by Jalan January on fourth-and-1 with 1 minute, 28 seconds remaining. January finished with 185 yards rushing and three scores on 31 carries.
Hartley is 12-1 and plays Trotwood-Madison in a state semifinal Nov. 29 at London.
3. Harvest Prep continued to defy the odds to win its regional title.
Although the Warriors were the top seed in Division VII, Region 27, advancing to a state semifinal was far from a foregone conclusion because of the injuries they have endured.
With only about 25 players remaining, Harvest Prep got the winning touchdown on a 5-yard run by Khelin Jackson on third-and-goal with 26.9 seconds to go to beat second-seeded Newark Catholic 22-15 on Nov. 23 at Westerville Central.
The Warriors struggled to hang on to the ball for much of the night, losing three fumbles, but put together the game-winning drive after falling behind midway through the final period as they improved to 12-1.
Harvest Prep plays Lucas in a state semifinal Nov. 30 at DeSales.
4. Dublin Coffman and Groveport had their seasons end with regional final losses.
In the Division I, Region 2 final at London, third-seeded Coffman led top-seeded Springfield 3-0 by halftime on a 30-yard field goal by Casey Magyar.
Then with 5:03 to go in the third quarter, Te’Sean Smoot ran for a 1-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play, 82-yard drive and the defense made the score stand as the Wildcats won 7-3 to advance to a state semifinal Nov. 29 against Cincinnati Elder.
The Shamrocks, who were in a regional final for the second consecutive season, finished 10-3.
Groveport was in a regional final for the first time, with the loss to Central ending the best season in program history at 10-3.
The Cruisers were 0-10 in 2017 and improved to 5-5 last season.
5. Olentangy’s surprising postseason run ended with a Division II regional runner-up finish.
Although it entered the postseason at just 5-5 and as the sixth seed in Division II, Region 7, Olentangy earned a pair of upset wins before falling to top-seeded Toledo Central Catholic 35-14 in the regional final Nov. 22 at Tiffin Columbian.
The Braves, who finished 7-6, were held to 22 yards rushing in the first half and 54 for the game on 30 carries after averaging 246 yards in their two playoff wins.
Central Catholic, which is 13-0, will play Cincinnati La Salle in a state semifinal Nov. 29.