Pickerington Central vs. Mentor: Tigers preparing for familiar foe in Cardinals
Several minutes after his team had finished celebrating its fifth consecutive regional championship Oct. 30, Pickerington Central coach Jay Sharrett still didn't know who the Tigers’ next opponent would be.
When he found out that it would be Mentor, his reaction included a sarcastic “Great.”
“Like we haven’t played them before,” Sharrett said. “Hey, you win them and forget them. If you dwell on it or overjoy yourself, you’ll get knocked off the next week.”
The Tigers will play the Cardinals on Friday, Nov. 6, in a Division I state semifinal at New Philadelphia, with the winner to face Springfield or Cincinnati St. Xavier on Nov. 13 for the title.
Central has won 21 games in a row, including 19 against central Ohio teams.
Third-seeded Westerville Central was the latest to join that list, as the top-seeded Tigers had little trouble in a 38-7 victory in the Region 3 final while improving to 10-0.
The Cardinals have a new coach in Matt Gray, but Mentor is 9-1 and likely will enter the matchup knowing it can stand toe-to-toe against the Tigers considering their recent history.
Central defeated the Cardinals 56-28 in the 2017 state championship game, but last season in a state semifinal, the Tigers held on to win 28-21 in the final game for Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno. He stepped down after leading the Cardinals to four state runner-up finishes in 23 seasons.
Mentor senior quarterback Ian Kipp, who has thrown for 2,048 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for seven scores, was injured midway through the fourth quarter of last year’s matchup with his team driving for a potential game-tying touchdown.
He returned for the Cardinals’ final offensive series but was sacked twice for negative yardage and threw an incomplete pass on his team’s final play from scrimmage.
Two other players who scored touchdowns in last year’s game — Mentor senior running back Riley Coughlin and Central senior wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. — are playing key roles again this season.
The Tigers have a new quarterback in Garner Wallace, who succeeded three-year starter Demeatric Crenshaw and has been among the team’s top rushers along with senior running back Nick Mosley.
“There was a lot of playoff energy (in the regional final),” Sharrett said. “They were working to extend their season like we were and sometimes you have a hard-hitting first quarter. Our guys responded to it and squeezed out a couple touchdowns on a couple loose balls that I think got away from them.”
Dakari Frazier recovered a fumble that was forced by Reece Brancifort midway through the first quarter, and Tyler Gillison recovered a fumble in the second period to set up another score.
The Tigers’ defense, which also features seniors William Dukes IV (LB) and A.J. Sanders (DB), junior C.J. Doggette (DL) and sophomore Alex Styles (DB), could be facing its toughest task to date in Mentor.
Kipp tied the program record when he threw for six touchdowns in a 41-7 victory over Strongsville on Oct. 2, and seniors Hutch Baird and John Sierputowski are capable options at wide receiver.
“We get to the quarterback fast,” Frazier said. “Our defensive line keeps going after it play after play and when they get to the quarterback and make the quarterback fumble, you’ve just got to hop on it as soon as you can. Our defense, no matter how many times we mess up, we keep going after it.”
Defensively, much of Mentor’s strength is up front.
Lineman Brenan Vernon missed time earlier in the playoffs with an injury, but the 6-foot-5, 260-pound sophomore returned for a 49-14 win Oct. 30 over Medina. He has been offered by Ohio State.
Seniors Preston Cardina and Gregory Predina and sophomore Ryan Lawson are other standouts on the line.
Against Westerville Central, Wallace rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns, including an 86-yarder in the third quarter, and Mosley rushed for 90 yards on 23 carries.
“We did a good job building a 21-7 lead,” Sharrett said. “We built on it and even though our opening drive of the second half we didn’t score a touchdown, we took a lot of time off the clock and worked it down the field and ended with a (24-yard field goal by Mitchell Vollmer). That drive really set up what happened after that.”
PICKERINGTON CENTRAL vs. MENTOR
•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6
•Where: New Philadelphia
•Last meeting: 2019, Central 28-21
•Mentor (9-1) to date: Defeated Medina 37-19; def. Euclid 27-12; lost to Lakewood St. Edward 28-24; def. Brunswick 38-0; def. Elyria 45-21; def. Strongsville 41-7; def. Shaker Heights 69-13; def. Stow-Munroe Falls 31-14; def. Brunswick 37-21; def. Medina 49-14
•Central (10-0) to date: Def. Pickerington North 35-9; def. Newark 49-0; def. Central Crossing 47-0; def. Groveport 43-3; def. Lancaster 35-0; def. Reynoldsburg 38-13; def. Grove City 49-0; def. Hilliard Darby 35-16; def. Hilliard Bradley 34-7; def. Westerville Central 38-7
•Top Cardinals: Hutch Baird (WR), Preston Cardina (DL), Riley Coughlin (RB), Evan Harper (WR), Ian Kipp (QB), Ryan Lawson (DL), Gregory Predina (DL), John Sierputowski (WR) and Brenan Vernon (DL)
•Top Tigers: C.J. Doggette (DL), William Dukes IV (LB), Tyler Gillison (LB/TE), Nick Mosley (RB), A.J. Sanders (DB), Keaton Snyder (OL), Alex Styles (DB), Lorenzo Styles Jr. (WR/DB) and Garner Wallace (QB)