Pickerington Central: Tigers heading back to Division I state final

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Central's Garrett Meek (51) and Keaton Snyder (53) run off the field in celebration after a 38-31 win over Mentor in a Division I state semifinal Nov. 6 at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium in New Philadelphia.
Central's Garner Wallace and Tyler Gillison celebrate Wallace's 92-yard touchdown run in a 38-31 win over Mentor on Nov. 6. The Tigers will play Cincinnati St. Xavier for the state championship on Friday, Nov. 13.

Few programs in Ohio have been involved in as many big games the past few years as the Pickerington Central football team.

When the pressure was at its highest in a Division I state semifinal Nov. 6 against Mentor at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium in New Philadelphia, the Tigers' poise helped them get through.

Previously, Central’s most competitive game this season came Oct. 16 when it led 14-10 at halftime before pulling away to beat Hilliard Darby 35-16 in a Region 3 quarterfinal.

The Tigers set themselves up for an easy ride to the state final by building a 21-0 lead in the state semifinal, but the Cardinals had a strong counterpunch.

“You just keep grinding and grinding,” coach Jay Sharrett said. “You offset the penalties that we got called against us. There were some tough calls, but did anybody panic? No. The team that panics loses and that’s why we’re moving on.”

With a 38-31 victory over Mentor, Central will play Cincinnati St. Xavier for the state championship Friday, Nov. 13, at Fortress Obetz.

While the Tigers have won two of the last three state titles and are 11-0, the Bombers head into the final after edging Springfield 12-10 on Nov. 6 and are 9-2.

St. Xavier beat Central 29-27 in a 2016 state semifinal and went on to defeat Cleveland St. Ignatius 27-20 in two overtimes for the championship.

The Tigers have gone 50-5 since, including winning their last 22.

“It’s great,” senior Lorenzo Styles Jr. said. “It’s my senior year and I did it for the guys before me, and it’s good for me as well. Our goal is to get to the state championship and we’re there, and we want to finish out with a win.”

Styles set a program record with his 55th career start against Mentor and produced perhaps the game’s most important play, a 70-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third quarter. The score gave the Tigers a 28-21 lead after the Cardinals had scored 21 unanswered points.

Mentor quarterback Ian Kipp, who entered the game having thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, was not available to play. Sophomore Jacob Snow filled in and finished 15-for-35 passing for 193 yards.

Central's Alex Styles (15) and Quinn Wills defend a pass intended for Mentor's Evan Harper during a Division I state semifinal Nov. 6.

The Tigers made it 35-24 on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Garner Wallace to Gavin Edwards with 6:57 to go before Snow hit Michael Norwood for an 11-yard touchdown to cut it to 35-31 with 5:15 remaining.

“With that type of talent on their side of the football and that type of speed most importantly, you give them a seam, you miss a tackle, and on that Styles touchdown, we had him wrapped up at the line of scrimmage,” said first-year Mentor coach Matt Gray, whose program also lost to the Tigers in the 2017 state final and in a state semifinal last season. “We had two missed tackles right there. When you give that type of speed a crease, they’re going to go to the house.”

While the Tigers were guided the past three seasons by the multi-threat abilities of 2020 graduate Demeatric Crenshaw at quarterback, Wallace has been especially tough for defenses to deal with because of his legs.

He rushed for an 86-yard touchdown in a 38-7 victory over Westerville Central on Oct. 30 in the regional final and ran for a 92-yard score against Mentor.

Wallace is averaging just under eight pass attempts per game and went 8-for-9 passing for 116 yards and one touchdown against Mentor.

The Bombers, meanwhile, have burned teams through the air and on the ground, with Brogan McCaughey throwing for 2,416 yards and 24 touchdowns and Charles Kellom rushing 848 yards and 10 scores. But they’ve been held to 10 and 12 points, respectively, the past two games.

Sharrett was impressed with what his team did to advance to the program’s fifth appearance in a state final.

“We had to fight to the end and wrestle the game away a little bit in the fourth quarter,” he said. “When you’re fighting for your life and you’re in the state semis, trying to get to the state championship … we’re fortunate enough to advance.”

Cross country season

ends at regional

Gratitude mingled with disappointment at the Pickerington Central cross country team’s campsite after the Division I regional meet Oct. 31 at Pickerington North.

Boys coach Andy Fischer, girls coach Jacob Schimberg and the Tigers’ nine participating runners grappled with the season ending short of an appearance in the state meet Nov. 7 at Fortress Obetz, but they also hoped to channel that into strong preparation for next season.

Competing as individuals, girls senior Grace Osborn finished 22nd in 19 minutes, 58.1 seconds — 4.2 seconds shy of qualifying for state — and sophomore Amber Carter was 25th (20:10.9).

“Back in June when we started our summer conditioning, I told the girls this season was going to look and feel different because we were coaching toward late October and early November,” Schimberg said. “We used each meet as a building block to this. We thought we peaked at district but we came to (regional) and I thought this was a step up from this peak. 

“The plan worked. I’d have loved to have seen them punch through for a state appearance but we’ll be back.”

Most of the top seven is eligible to return for the girls team, including juniors Mia Doukakis and Mallory Schmidt and sophomores Ashley Carter, Anna Heren and Talia Mauro. Junior Brenna Todd missed the season because of an injury.

Led by junior Jailen Willis’ 25th-place finish (16:48.8), the boys placed ninth (239) behind champion Hilliard Davidson (57) as 16 teams scored. 

Also scoring were senior Chase Balko (45th, 17:15), sophomore Andrew Scrape (51st, 17:19.4), senior Brycen Rogers (68th, 17:33.5) and junior Gavin Kelly (99th, 17:59.3).

Balko was seeking his second consecutive state appearance.

“About three-quarters of a mile in, I thought we were in a good place. At the mile, Jailen and Brycen were right around 20th and Chase was 24th and that’s about where we wanted to be,” Fischer said. “We just weren’t able to complete the race as we hoped. It’s disappointing for as hard as they worked all year.”

Other runners eligible to return include junior Drew Osler, sophomores Gavin Billingsly, Doug Graham, Josh Morehead and Michael Skidmore and freshman Jackson Morris.

—Dave Purpura

sports@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSports

CROSS COUNTRY

OCC-Buckeye standings: Boys — Lancaster (33), Pickerington Central (44), Reynoldsburg (73), Newark (88), Central Crossing (152); Girls — Lancaster (26), Central (47), Reynoldsburg (65), Newark (102), Central Crossing (138), Groveport (147)

Seniors lost: Boys — Chase Balko, Jacob Brown, Brycen Rogers and Owen Sauer; Girls — Grace Osborn and Grace Vega

Key returnees: Boys — Gavin Kelly, Drew Osler, Andrew Scrape and Jailen Willis; Girls — Amber Carter, Ashley Carter, Mia Doukakis, Anna Heren, Talia Mauro, Mallory Schmidt and Brenna Todd

Postseason: Boys — Third (81) at district behind champion Dublin Jerome (53), ninth (239) at regional behind champion Hilliard Davidson (57); Girls — Seventh (185) at district behind champion Dublin Coffman (55)