Only two football teams from the Central District ended up advancing to state championship games, but it could just as easily have been four.
Pickerington Central will make its fourth appearance in a state final, with its most recent coming when it won its first Division I title in 2017, while Licking Valley will compete for the Division IV title after previously losing in championship games in 2001 and 2007.
Hartley and Harvest Prep nearly joined that pair but lost in state semifinals in Division III and Division VII, respectively.
Here are five things we learned in the state semifinals:
1. Central beat a hungry team to reach the Division I state championship game.
Heading into its matchup against Mentor on Nov. 29 at Canton GlenOak, the Tigers knew they were facing the same team they beat for the title in 2017.
In addition, Cardinals coach Steve Trivisonno announced several months ago that he was stepping down at the end of this season, his 23rd.
Those factors didn’t stop Central, as it got a game-winning 9-yard touchdown run from senior quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw late in the third quarter and had its defense do the rest as it won 28-21 to improve to 13-1.
The Tigers, who will play Cincinnati Elder for the title at 8 p.m. Dec. 6 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, previously lost state finals in 2006 and 2011 before getting it done two seasons ago when Crenshaw also led the way.
2. Harvest Prep had a chance to reach a state final slip away — barely.
In a Division VII state semifinal against Lucas on Nov. 30 at DeSales, Harvest Prep took a 12-7 lead on a 76-yard touchdown pass from Josiah Carroll to Rashaun Goines with 7 minutes, 35 seconds to go.
The Warriors couldn’t hang on, though, as Lucas drove 80 yards and scored on a 13-yard pass from Logan Niswander to Riley Mounts on fourth-and-goal with 54 seconds left to win 15-12.
The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak for Harvest Prep, which finished 12-2.
3. A furious comeback nearly sent Hartley back to a state final.
After winning Division IV state titles in 2010, 2015 and 2016 under coach Brad Burchfield, the Hawks’ bid to win their first Division III championship ended with a 24-19 loss to Trotwood-Madison in a state semifinal Nov. 29 at London.
Hartley fell behind 24-0 before getting three rushing touchdowns from senior running back Jalan January, who closed his season with more than 2,000 yards on the ground.
The Hawks cut it to 24-12 and then recovered an onside kick to set up their third touchdown but weren’t able to score on their final possession.
Hartley was making its first appearance in a state semifinal in Division III and finished 12-2.
4. Licking Valley will get another chance to capture its first state title.
With a 25-24 victory over Poland Seminary on Nov. 30 at Massillon Washington, Licking Valley will play Clyde at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 for the Division IV title.
The Panthers trailed 24-10 midway through the fourth quarter but got a pair of touchdown receptions by Bodee Creech, with Mitchell Ford’s two-point conversion catch completing the comeback as they improved to 14-0.
In 38 seasons under coach Randy Baughman, Licking Valley is 34-18 in the postseason.
5. West Jefferson and Howard East Knox had strong seasons end in state semifinals.
West Jefferson’s bid to make it to a state final for the first time since 1982 ended with a 49-21 loss to Ironton in a Division V state semifinal Nov. 30 at Chillicothe as it finished 12-2. The Roughriders had gone 8-3 last season.
In a Division VI state semifinal Nov. 29 at Orrville, East Knox lost to New Middletown Springfield 42-14 to finish 13-1. It completed the best season in program history for the Bulldogs, who were just 3-7 in the postseason before this fall’s run, with their last appearance coming in 2005.