Pickerington North at Pickerington Central: Panthers, Tigers set for 'weird' opener
Although the Pickerington Central football team has won the past eight matchups against Pickerington North and holds a 13-3 all-time lead in the series, which began in 2008, intrigue rarely has been an issue when the programs meet.
There won't be a league title or a chance to advance in the playoffs on the line in their latest contest, but both teams know what is at stake.
It will not only mark the first time that the Tigers and Panthers will meet to open a season, but the game will be played on a Sunday afternoon and televised nationally by ESPN. Kickoff is at noon Sunday, Aug. 30, at Central.
The game will be played 12 days after teams got the go-ahead to compete from Gov. Mike DeWine.
"It's all part of this experience we're having right now," Tigers coach Jay Sharrett said. "It's always a weird week when we play them right now and the game is always high intensity. Now we're going to play them on a Sunday."
Last season, when both teams were in the OCC-Ohio Division, Central beat North 16-7 on its way to capturing the league title at 5-0 while the Panthers finished second at 4-1.
That was part of an 11-game winning streak to close the season for the Tigers, who finished 14-1 overall and won their second Division I state title in three seasons.
The Panthers bounced back to win their final two regular-season games before losing to Olentangy Orange 36-17 in the first round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs to finish 6-5 overall.
With the latest OCC realignment, Central is in the OCC-Buckeye and North remains in the OCC-Ohio.
This game also represents the only non-league regular-season contest the programs will play before beginning their league schedules.
The playoffs begin Oct. 9 following a six-week regular season, but teams can play regular-season contests after they lose in the playoffs or if they choose not to enter.
Central faced Dublin Coffman on Aug. 21 and North faced Canal Winchester on Aug. 22 in scrimmages that represented each program's only preseason preparation outside of practice.
"It's real weird playing them (in Week 1) and we're not in the same league, so it's one of those things," Panthers coach Nate Hillerich said. "When there's not a lot of scrimmages, what are you trading? You don't really know what people are doing. It doesn't really matter with Pickerington Central because we know each other."
Both teams enter the season with new quarterbacks.
Central senior Garner Wallace, a Northwestern commit as a defensive back, is taking over after backing up 2020 graduate Demeatric Crenshaw, a three-year starter.
At running back, the Tigers have senior Nick Mosley, a Bowling Green commit who rushed for 1,427 yards and 23 touchdowns on 234 carries last season.
Another key weapon for Central will be senior Lorenzo Styles Jr., a Notre Dame commit who had 43 receptions for 585 yards and six touchdowns while also rushing for 252 yards.
North's defense won't look the same after senior end Jack Sawyer, an Ohio State commit and the state's No. 1 recruit, opted out of the season.
Senior end Elijah Hawk, who had 6.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups last year, and senior linebackers Cole Johnson and Marcus Ray II give the Panthers a group of experienced defensive players.
Senior Jared Knight is the new North quarterback after starting the past two seasons at Grove City. He threw for 411 yards and one touchdown a year ago.
Senior running back Idris Lawrence, who rushed for 642 yards and seven touchdowns and was the team's second-leading receiver with 24 catches, and sophomore Dawaun Green will lead the Panthers' rushing attack.
Senior Hayden Kaltenecker had 15 catches and leads North's receiving corps.
Central has experienced players scattered throughout its defense, with Styles and seniors A.J. Sanders and Sirron Smith in the secondary, senior William Dukes IV at linebacker and junior C.J. Doggette on the line.
"Every single year we're trying to help that senior class win," Styles said. "I still think the underclassmen are going to do the same thing for us now.
"I feel like we have the same mindset."
PICKERINGTON NORTH at PICKERINGTON CENTRAL
*When: Noon, Sunday, Aug. 30
*Last meeting: 2019, Central 16-7
*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 Tigers: C.J. Doggette (DL), William Dukes IV (LB), Tyler Gillison (LB/TE), Nick Mosley (RB), A.J. Sanders (DB), Sirron Smith (DB/RB), Keaton Snyder (OL), Lorenzo Styles Jr. (WR/DB) and Garner Wallace (QB)