Pickerington Central: Rough first half ended Tigers' state title hopes
When the Pickerington Central football team lost a fumble late in the first quarter of the Division I state championship game Nov. 13 at Fortress Obetz, it marked its first turnover since its second playoff game.
The Tigers had trailed in only two games all season until getting trounced in the opening period by Cincinnati St. Xavier, eventually falling 44-3 to end their hopes of winning a second consecutive state title and third in four seasons.
Central finished 11-1 and saw its 22-game winning streak snapped, while St. Xavier finished 10-2.
In addition to the lost fumble, which set up a touchdown that gave the Bombers a 30-0 lead, the Tigers failed to get off a punt at their own 20, leading to the game’s first score, and had quarterback Garner Wallace get sacked in the end zone for a safety on their third possession.
Combine that with the Bombers’ Gabe DuBois returning a punt 58 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter, and it was reminiscent of what the Tigers had done to opponents all season.
Before beating Mentor 38-31 on Nov. 6 in a state semifinal, Central’s closest win had been 35-16 over Hilliard Darby on Oct. 16 in a regional quarterfinal.
“I just felt like we got a taste of our own medicine,” senior wide receiver and defensive back Lorenzo Styles Jr. said. “I don’t really think we’ve been down by 14 this year at all, so I don’t think we knew how to react to that. At the beginning we (couldn’t get off) the punt and had the safety. They put us down on our back and we unfortunately couldn’t get up.”
Central’s only points came on a 27-yard field goal by Mitchell Vollmer with 11 minutes, 16 seconds to go in the first half.
The Tigers already trailed 30-0 when Styles returned a punt 71 yards. Wallace then connected with Gavin Edwards for a 16-yard reception, but St. Xavier stopped running back Nick Mosley for a 3-yard loss and Wallace for a 1-yard loss to force Central to settle for Vollmer's field goal.
On the Bombers’ next drive, quarterback Brogan McCaughey completed a 28-yard pass to Terrell McFarlin to move to the Central 39 and then hit Jalen Patterson deep downfield for a play that initially was called a touchdown but was later placed at the 1 following a replay review.
McCaughey ran for a touchdown on the next play to make it 37-3, and Central failed to get a first down on its next two possessions.
“Whether it was on offense, defense, special teams, we couldn’t get a first down and we couldn’t keep them from getting a first down,” coach Jay Sharrett said. “That’s why they’re the state champs and we’re the state runners-up. Their height and length always concerned us. They controlled us at the line of scrimmage and it made it difficult for us to move the ball. We got to the quarterback a couple times, but he doesn’t force anything. ...
“There’s one thing to get the momentum, but just to hold on to it, we were buried the whole first quarter. They’re a great football team and they’re going to enjoy the state championship.”
Styles finished with 25 yards on four carries, but the Bombers limited Mosley to 2 yards on five carries and Wallace to (minus)-5 on seven rushes.
Wallace had rushed for more than 130 yards in each of the past two games, and Mosley had a 151-yard performance in a 34-7 victory over Hilliard Bradley on Oct. 23 in a regional semifinal.
“This is the last time I’m going to play with my guys,” Styles said. “Just knowing it’s going to be the last time with this group of guys, it just really hurts.”