Pickerington North at New Albany: Panthers, Eagles to put OCC title hopes on line

Game of the Week

DAVE PURPURA
ThisWeekSPORTS.com
Idris Lawrence and Pickerington North visit New Albany on Friday, Sept. 25, for an OCC-Ohio showdown. Lawrence rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in a 47-24 win over Grove City on Sept. 18.

While New Albany has relied on the run for years, Pickerington North entered this season certain it would need a strong effort on the ground to have any success, let alone lead the OCC-Ohio Division with two weeks left in the regular season.

That is where the Panthers find themselves entering a Friday, Sept. 25, visit to the Eagles, coming off a 47-24 win at Grove City on Sept. 18. 

In that game, North ran for 381 yards to earn its third consecutive victory after a lopsided opening loss to defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central.

“We knew that was who we had to become,” said North coach Nate Hillerich, whose team is 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the league. “Opening the season with Central was a little different because we won’t play a lot of teams like them, so we weren’t sure about things. We have a really strong offensive line and both of our running backs (Idris Lawrence and Dawaun Green) are really good. With Jaylen Gilbert at quarterback, that gives us a three-headed monster that can be so dynamic.”

Lawrence, a senior, ran for 205 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries last week, the fourth-best single-game rushing performance in program history. Green added 13 carries for 88 yards and a score, and Gilbert had 12 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

The Panthers have scored 106 points the past two weeks.

New Albany racked up 436 yards in a 49-0 home victory over Westland on Sept. 18, its highest-scoring game since a 55-36 win over Franklin Heights in 2017.

Quarterback Brock Tibbitts completed eight of 10 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, Jaylen Fudge rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and the Eagles forced four Cougars turnovers in improving to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio.

“North’s defense is quick. They like to blitz and attack and we have to take care of the ball,” New Albany coach Bubba Kidwell said. “There might be times when we’re stopped or are held to a negative (yardage) play. We have to stick to what we’re doing and account for them defensively.”

It is not lost on either team that North would clinch at least a tie for its first OCC-Ohio championship since 2012 with a win.

“This is the kind of game we do all that lifting and preparation for in the offseason, to go out and have success on a night like this,” Kidwell said. “Pickerington North is one of the best teams in the area. They have been for a while.”

New Albany, which shared the OCC-Capital title last year with Canal Winchester and Groveport, is tied for second with Gahanna and Westerville Central.

“They’re a program that’s used to winning,” Hillerich said. “(Tibbitts) helps make them pretty balanced. and defensively, they’re pretty long at some positions. It’s a big game for us. We’ve never played New Albany and they’re playing for the same thing we are. A championship is on the line.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

WEEK 5

PICKERINGTON NORTH at NEW ALBANY

•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25

•Last meeting: First meeting

•North (3-1 overall, 3-0 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Lost to Pickerington Central 35-9; defeated Westerville Central 34-20; def. Westland 59-6; def. Grove City 47-24

•New Albany (3-1 overall, 2-1 in OCC-Ohio) to date: Def. Lancaster 20-13; def. Grove City 23-7; lost to Gahanna 42-41 (OT); def. Westland 49-0

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

•Top Eagles: Braeden Elwer (TE/OL/LB), Jayden Fudge (RB), Ian Hoff (LB/K), Collin Johnson (OL/LS), Brock Kidwell (RB/QB/DB), Brock Tibbitts (QB/P), Tyler Van Meter (RB/LB), Jaron Webster (OL) and Owen Wilcox (WR/DB)