The Division I state championship game didn’t end up being the high-scoring contest that some anticipated when the Pickerington Central football team was matched up with Cincinnati Elder.
The slower pace of the game and the adjustments the Tigers made when it was clear early on that they might have trouble running the ball were among the factors that helped them to a 21-14 victory and the state title Dec. 6 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Here are five things we learned in the Division I state final:
1. Winning two state titles in three seasons in the big-school division is no small feat for central Ohio.
Remember when it was rare for central Ohio teams to win the championship in the state’s largest division?
Just as Hilliard Davidson did when it won titles in 2006 and ’09, the Tigers are doing their part to prove that some of the state’s most powerful programs reside not just in northeast or southwest Ohio but in the Columbus area.
Since 2010, Lakewood St. Edward has won four state titles and Cincinnati Moeller has won two, but Central has captured titles in 2017 and this season and was state runner-up in 2011 in addition to making state semifinal appearances in 2016 and ’18.
2. Demeatric Crenshaw continues to show he can play at the next level.
The Tigers long have been a run-first offense that mixes in passing plays, which isn’t necessarily a formula for having quarterbacks with gaudy passing numbers.
Crenshaw created one of the defining moments of this year’s state title win when he escaped three sack attempts on the same play to complete a fourth-down pass and extend what would become a touchdown-tying drive.
At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Crenshaw has the physical strength to handle college defenses and has shown that he can make plays, as well as the right decisions, under pressure.
3. Lorenzo Styles Jr. took advantage of a chance to shine.
During Central’s run to the 2017 state title, it increasingly found ways to get the ball to its best all-around athlete, current Michigan State safety Xavier Henderson.
This year’s version was junior Lorenzo Styles Jr., a Notre Dame commit who became a bigger part of the running game late in the season and then scored the game-winning touchdown against Elder when he got open over the middle and sprinted past the defense for a 49-yard touchdown reception.
4. Central limited the abilities of Elder’s playmakers.
One of the Panthers’ biggest weapons all season was senior tight end Joe Royer, a 6-5, 215-pounder who is headed to Ohio State and entered the state final with 51 receptions for 914 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Elder quarterback Matthew Luebbe was effective in the short passing game but connected with Royer just one time for 21 yards. The Tigers held Luebbe to 111 yards passing.
5. Central had an answer for Elder’s strong second-half start.
After the Panthers opened the second half with a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-7 lead, Central responded with an 18-play, 73-yard possession that included being successful on two fourth-down plays.
Elder was forced to punt on its next drive and on its final possession, Luebbe threw what would have been a first-down completion to Drew Ramsey, but he was unable to get a foot down inbounds as the Tigers sealed the victory and a 14-1 season.