Westland at Pickerington North: Panthers not looking past Cougars in home opener

FRANK DIRENNA
fdirenna@thisweeknews.com
Centennial transfer Jaylen Gilbert and Pickerington North will play host to Westland on Friday, Sept. 11.

After moving from the OCC-Central Division to the OCC-Ohio, Westland football coach Rick Rios knew his team would face similar challenges in its new league.

The Cougars, who opened league play with a 49-7 loss to Gahanna on Sept. 4, face another test when they visit Pickerington North on Friday, Sept 11.

The Panthers have qualified for the Division I, Region 3 playoffs three of the last four years.

“We knew losing our non-conference games was going to hurt us, especially being able to build some confidence and being able to compete at a higher level early on with our young kids,” Rios said. “We know the challenges ahead. The OCC is not going to get any easier for us.”

Westland and North last met in 2004, with the Cougars winning 20-13 for their lone win in a 1-9 season. The Panthers finished 7-3.

It will be the home opener for North, which split two road games to begin the season. The Panthers opened with a 35-9 loss at Pickerington Central on Aug. 30 before rebounding to win 34-20 at Westerville Central on Sept. 4.

Westland, which opened with a 38-0 loss to Groveport on Aug. 28, has been outscored 87-7 in its first two games.

“It won’t be hard to motivate our kids,” North coach Nate Hillerich said of preparing for Westland. “When you watch them, they have really good players and they definitely look the part. It’s just them being able to execute, putting it together. They can be a scary team for somebody.”

With the score tied at 20 against Westerville Central, quarterback Jaylen Gilbert scored on a 56-yard run with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining to give the Panthers the lead.

Gilbert and Marquise Scott (SB/DB) transferred from Centennial after Columbus City Schools suspended all extracurricular activities Aug. 14 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and before the district lifted the suspension Aug. 27.

Running back Dawaun Green led the Panthers, rushing for 140 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries.

“They’re as athletic as heck,” Rios said. “They’re scary off the edge defensively and they have a running back (Green) who’s pretty good. They have another quarterback (Gilbert) who just moved in. They have a couple of quarterbacks (Gilbert and Jared Knight) who can hurt you in a couple different ways. They’re impressive.”

Westland, which was outgained 355-173 against Gahanna, got its lone score when Jovaan Cooper connected with Jack Little on a 79-yard touchdown pass.

“We have to take care of the ball and make sure we do our jobs and not try to do anything extravagant,” Hillerich said. “We have to make sure we focus on ourselves.”

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

WEEK 3

WESTLAND at PICKERINGTON NORTH

•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11

•Last meeting: 2004, Westland 20-13

•Westland (0-2 overall, 0-1 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Lost to Groveport 38-0; lost to Gahanna 49-7

•North (1-1 overall, 1-0 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Lost to Pickerington Central 35-9; defeated Westerville Central 34-20

•Top Cougars: Colton Bogle (OL), Jovaan Cooper (QB), Zane Gibbs-Aguon (WR), Payton Hayes (OL/DL), Hayden Hughes (OL/DL), Jakob Hurley (LB), Jack Little (WR), Jenell Matia (WR), Tim Smith (RB/DB) and Seth Westmoreland (DB)

•Top Panthers: Eli Coppess (DB), D.J. Davenport (OL), Jaylen Gilbert (QB), Dawaun Green (RB), Elijah Hawk (DL), Cole Johnson (LB), Jared Knight (QB), Idris Lawrence (RB), Devin McShan (DB) and Tyce Neu (OL)