Football: First outright title highlights season for Pickerington North Panthers

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Jaylen Gilbert, a transfer from Centennial, completed 77 of 109 passes for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and rushed 70 times for 582 yards and eight touchdowns as the Panthers went 6-2 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio to earn the program's first outright league title.

In the 2007, ’12 and ’13 seasons, the Pickerington North football team lost its final regular-season game and settled for a share of the league title. 

Although the second-seeded Panthers didn’t have the finish they were hoping for in the Division I, Region 3 playoffs – losing 44-20 to 10th-seeded New Albany in a regional quarterfinal Oct. 16 – they did accomplish a program first. 

With a 31-6 victory Oct. 2 over Gahanna, North wrapped up its first outright league championship by going 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division. 

The Panthers, who opened the playoffs with a 35-22 win Oct. 9 over 15th-seeded Hilliard Davidson, finished 6-2. 

“I really enjoyed having a season this year due to the obvious concerns about not having it, and it turned out to be a pretty good season,” junior offensive lineman Braden Watts said. “I was most pleased about being able to just get out there and play, let alone becoming North’s first-ever outright OCC champions.” 

The Panthers opened Aug. 30 with a 35-9 loss at Pickerington Central in a game televised on ESPN but didn’t lose again during the regular season, including a 34-20 victory over eventual regional runner-up Westerville Central on Sept. 4. 

North also beat New Albany 56-21 three weeks before losing the rematch. 

What became the fifth consecutive winning season for the Panthers took place even though senior Jack Sawyer – an Ohio State recruit who started on the defensive line the last three seasons and at quarterback last fall – opted out of the season. 

He received a jersey Nov. 11 for being selected to the Under Armour All-American team. 

“In late July, I don’t think many of us thought we were going to start the season on time, so the fact that we were able to play football was a positive,” coach Nate Hillerich said. “To be able to look back on the season and reflect and know you won an OCC championship outright for the first time in school history was a great thing for the legacy of these seniors.” 

Seniors Idris Lawrence (RB), Tyce Neu (OL), Jaylen Gilbert (QB), Devin McShan (DB), Tanner Pope (K) and Elijah Hawk (DL) and junior Eli Coppess (DB) were first-team all-league, with Lawrence being named Offensive Player of the Year. 

Lawrence rushed for 732 yards and nine touchdowns on 113 carries. 

Gilbert transferred from Centennial shortly before the season and completed 77 of 109 passes for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed 70 times for 582 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Coppess finished with 39 tackles and returned two punts for touchdowns; McShan had 36 tackles, four tackles for loss and two pass breakups; and Hawk had 29 tackles, 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. 

Pope made two field goals and 33 extra points. 

“Next year we’re going to have a great group of guys,” Coppess said. “We lose a lot of great players, but the underclassmen are ready to step up and be great leaders.” 

Seniors Zach Addie (OL) and Cole Johnson (LB) and sophomores Duwaun Green (RB) and Malik Ray were second team all-league, Watts was special mention and junior Carl Allen (WR) was honorable mention. 

Green finished with 514 yards and eight touchdowns on 85 carries, Allen had 19 receptions for 327 yards and five touchdowns, Johnson had 49 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss and Ray had 40 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. 

Kyle Coffey (LB, 34 tackles, four tackles for loss), D.J. Davenport (OL/DL), Brian Dickerson (WR, 14 receptions), Dejuan Hood (DL), Kendrick Jamison (RB), Hayden Kaltenecker (WR/P), Jared Knight (QB), Marquise Scott (WR) and Raquan Williams (WR/DB) were other senior contributors. 

Others eligible to return include juniors B.J. Donovan (OL) and Jon Lipscomb (DB), sophomores David Alabi (LB), Grant Burke (TE), Elijah Carter (LB), Cayden Christopher (DB) and Kaedyn Dunbar (DB) and freshman Rex Lahr (OL). 

Junior Kyle Koehler, sophomore Adam Sadler and freshman Landon O’Connell are expected to compete for the quarterback job. 

“It’s one of those things that obviously it hurts when you lose a player like (Sawyer) who’s not only the best player in Ohio but in America, but what it did is it may have helped our program for the future because we had a lot of younger guys step up,” Hillerich said. “We started six sophomores on defense, and they got to play in big-time games.” 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek 

•Record: 6-2 overall 

•OCC-Ohio standings: Pickerington North (5-0), Westerville Central (4-1), Gahanna (3-2), New Albany (2-3), Grove City (1-4), Westland (0-5) 

•Seniors lost: Zach Addie, Kyle Coffey, Tyler Cruse, D.J. Davenport, Brian Dickerson, J.J. Donovan, Daylon Duncan, Carl Giddens, Duane Glanton, Cesar Gomez, Elijah Hawk, Dejuan Hood, Peyton Imboden, Kendrick Jamison, Cole Johnson, Keith Jones, Darren Kagey, Hayden Kaltenecker, Bryce Kitto-Lee, Jared Knight, Idris Lawrence, Devin McShan, Tyce Neu, Evan Papali, Tanner Pope, Marcus Ray II, Diaunte Ryan, Matthew Saavedra, Raquan Williams and Brent Wippel 

•Key returnees: David Alabi, Carl Allen, Grant Burke, Cayden Christopher, Eli Coppess, B.J. Donovan, Kaedyn Dunbar, Dawaun Green, Malik Ray and Braden Watts 

•Postseason: Defeated Hilliard Davidson 35-22; lost to New Albany 44-20 in Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal