Friday Night Live: League races coming into focus for central Ohio teams
As if the 2020 football season couldn't get much weirder, it's already time to talk playoff hopes and league title chases in what would be the halfway point in a typical regular season.
Teams have until Thursday, Sept. 24, to decide whether to opt out of the postseason, but the only programs that initially had chosen not to enter the playoffs from central Ohio as of last week were Delaware and Newark.
While playoff seeding will be determined in each region over the next few days and the postseason isn't set to start until Oct. 9, there should be league-title drama worth paying attention to in Weeks 5 and 6.
In one of the higher profile matchups in Week 5, first place will be on the line in the OCC-Ohio Division when New Albany plays host to Pickerington North on Friday, Sept. 25, in the first meeting between the programs.
The Panthers improved to 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the league with a 47-24 victory over Grove City on Sept. 18, with their only loss coming 35-9 to defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central on Aug. 30.
New Albany bounced back from its only loss, a 42-41 overtime setback to Gahanna on Sept. 11, by blowing past Westland 49-0 on Sept. 18 to improve to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the league.
The Eagles have shown a consistent running game with Jayden Fudge and Brock Kidwell combining for more than 1,000 yards on the season.
New Albany coach Bubba Kidwell said he has been pleased with the way his offense has continued to progress despite not having running back Mechi McCaulley, who has been out with a broken collarbone.
North hasn't taken a step back despite not having its top player, senior defensive lineman and Ohio State recruit Jack Sawyer, after he opted out just before the season started.
Senior quarterback Jaylen Gilbert, a Centennial transfer who joined the Panthers for their 34-20 win over another of the area's top teams, Westerville Central, on Sept. 4, had a big game against Grove City. He completed 15 of 17 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 94 yards and two scores.
Ryan Schmidt and Owen Wilcox each had an interception for New Albany against Westland.
"They're a very sound football team, a veteran team that can run and throw," North coach Nate Hillerich said. "Their kids play extremely hard and are athletic. We have to take care of the football and be extremely disciplined on defense."
Here are other Week 5 matchups to watch:
*A week after the City League got started with crossover matchups between teams from the City-North and City-South divisions, Walnut Ridge will play host to Eastmoor Academy on Thursday, Sept. 24, in a matchup of teams coming off impressive opening wins.
Another thing the programs have in common is both have veteran coaches, with Byron Mattox in his 15th season with the Scots and Jim Miranda in his 18th season leading the Warriors.
Javarus Leach rushed for 116 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries and had three catches for 121 yards and two scores to lead Walnut Ridge past Centennial 36-14 on Sept. 17.
Led by senior running back Cameron Foster and sophomore quarterback Ahmad Armstrong, Eastmoor beat Northland 49-0 on Sept. 18.
While the Scots went 11-1 and reached the Division II playoffs last fall, Eastmoor followed a 12-2 finish in 2018 by winning its last five games a season ago to finish 6-4.
*Two teams experiencing breakout seasons will match up when Big Walnut visits Westerville North in OCC-Capital action Friday, Sept. 25.
Big Walnut hasn't posted a winning record since 2014 but is 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the league under first-year coach Rob Page after beating Worthington Kilbourne 31-0 on Sept. 18.
The Golden Eagles have been successful mixing it up offensively, as Caden Williams rushed for 189 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries and quarterback Jagger Barnett passed for 212 yards and one score against Kilbourne.
While Big Walnut's only loss came against Westerville South (50-41 on Sept. 4), North also is 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the league with its only defeat coming to South (32-28 on Sept. 11).
The Warriors last posted a winning record in 2004 and endured a 45-game losing streak from 2008-12. They were just 1-9 last season but finally have started making headway under third-year coach Bryan Johnson.
In a 21-7 win over Canal Winchester on Sept. 18, quarterback Wyatt Buxton threw for 131 yards and three touchdowns, Coby Darlington had three catches for 89 yards and two scores and Sylvester Bockarie rushed for 107 yards to lead the Warriors.
*Positioning in Division V, Region 19 and first place in the MSL-Ohio will be on the line when Columbus Academy plays host to Liberty Union on Friday, Sept. 25.
The Vikings bounced back from a 33-7 loss to Ready on Sept. 11 by beating Bexley 31-7 on Sept. 17 to improve to 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the MSL-Ohio.
Quarterback Brady Hess completed 14 of 16 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns and added a rushing score. Durell Moultrie had five catches for 109 yards and one touchdown, and Sam Huyghe added eight receptions for 63 yards and one score.
While Academy has made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, Liberty Union is coming off a 0-10 finish and had lost 25 of 30 games heading into this season.
Despite those recent struggles, Liberty Union is 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the MSL-Ohio and is coming off a 77-6 victory Sept. 18 over Grandview.
Liberty Union, which was ninth in last week's state poll, features sophomore Cayden Carroll at quarterback and juniors Jacob Denney (WR), Austin Ety (DB) and Braden Shreyer (LB) among its other top players.
At a glance
Thursday, Sept. 24
City League: Africentric at Briggs; Eastmoor Academy at Walnut Ridge
Area non-league: Ready vs. Whitehall at Fortress Obetz
Friday, Sept. 25
CCL: St. Charles at DeSales; Hartley at Watterson
OCC: Pickerington North at New Albany; Grove City at Gahanna; Westerville Central at Westland; Hilliard Davidson at Olentangy Liberty; Dublin Coffman at Upper Arlington; Olentangy Orange at Hilliard Bradley; Reynoldsburg at Central Crossing; Lancaster at Pickerington Central; Groveport at Newark; Thomas Worthington at Hilliard Darby; Marysville at Olentangy Berlin; Dublin Jerome at Olentangy; Canal Winchester at Westerville South; Franklin Heights at Worthington Kilbourne; Dublin Scioto at Delaware; Big Walnut at Westerville North
City League: Columbus East at Beechcroft; Mifflin at Whetstone
MSL: Liberty Union at Columbus Academy; Grandview at Buckeye Valley; Bexley at Harvest Prep; Fairfield Christian at Worthington Christian; Corning Miller at Grove City Christian
Saturday, Sept. 26
City League: Northland at Centennial; Marion-Franklin at Independence; Columbus West at Columbus South