Pickerington Central vs. Cincinnati St. Xavier: Defending champion Tigers ready to face Bombers
During Pickerington Central’s current run of five consecutive seasons of reaching at least a Division I state semifinal, two of its tightest games came when it beat Mentor in state semifinals last season and this fall.
The Tigers were on the other end of a close game the last time they faced Cincinnati St. Xavier, which is the last team standing between them and their second consecutive state championship and third in four seasons.
In a 2016 state semifinal, a field goal by St. Xavier’s Kevin Rockwood with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to go gave his team a 29-27 victory over the Tigers, and the Bombers went on to win their third state title.
“It was a great ballgame,” coach Jay Sharrett said. “You’re not surprised to see them in the final four and in the state championship game again.”
A 38-31 victory by the Tigers over Mentor on Nov. 6 in a state semifinal took place at New Philadelphia’s Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium, which Sharrett said his players appreciated because of its “old-school” feel and surrounding atmosphere.
At 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, Central and St. Xavier will be the first teams to play a state championship game at Fortress Obetz, which formerly was the home of the Ohio Machine professional men’s lacrosse team and has played host to prep football games and this year’s state cross country meet.
Central enters on a 22-game winning streak that includes an 11-0 record this season, while the Bombers are 9-2.
St. Xavier averaged 40.3 points over its first nine games then gutted out back-to-back defensive struggles over West Chester Lakota West (10-7 on Oct. 30) and Springfield (12-10 on Nov. 6) to reach the championship game.
“It’s honestly so exciting,” Central senior wide receiver Gavin Edwards said. “It’s definitely a great feeling back-to-back years being able to have a great team and go back to the state final.”
Edwards played mostly on special teams last season but came up with one of the Tigers’ biggest plays in the latest win over Mentor, scoring on a 31-yard reception from Garner Wallace with 6:57 to go for a 35-24 lead.
Wallace finished 8-for-9 passing for 116 yards and rushed for 136 yards on 21 carries, including a 92-yard touchdown with 11:46 to go before halftime that gave his team a 21-0 lead.
Mentor rallied to tie it at 21, but a 70-yard scoring run by Lorenzo Styles Jr. gave the Tigers the lead with 3:19 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers returned junior offensive lineman Kobe Asamoah for the Mentor game after he had been out the previous two weeks, but even with the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder, Sharrett expects his team to be at a slight size disadvantage up front against St. Xavier.
Some of the Bombers’ key playmakers on defense include senior linebacker Matthew Devine, senior defensive back Gabriel Dubois and junior defensive back Eli Kirk.
Devine has 104 tackles, one forced fumble and has returned an interception for a touchdown. Dubois has returned two of his six interceptions for touchdowns, and Kirk has 73 tackles and three interceptions.
Mentor limited Central running back Nick Mosley to 36 yards on 12 carries, but he increased his season rushing total to 1,001 yards and has scored 29 touchdowns.
“They look very similar to when we played them in 2016,” Sharrett said. “You wish you could see a play where they’re not gap-sound, but it’s like Mentor where you’re not going to get them on a double-reverse flea-flicker or some sort of gimmick. You’ve got to get some first downs and get a little bit of confidence.”
In the Bombers’ state semifinal win over Springfield, junior quarterback Brogan McCaughey completed 18 of 32 passes for 242 yards with one touchdown but was intercepted four times.
It was a rare tough night for McCaughey, however, as he has completed 179 of 279 passes for 2,416 yards with 24 touchdowns while playing in only nine games.
Junior running back Charles Kellom rushed for 66 yards against Springfield and has 848 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
Senior wide receiver Liam Clifford has 68 receptions for 1,084 yards and 12 touchdowns, including a 38-yarder from McCaughey midway through the third quarter that cut Springfield’s lead to 10-9.
Kicker Mason Rohmiller made a 21-yard field goal late in the third to put the Bombers ahead, and the St. Xavier defense shut out the Wildcats in the fourth quarter.
Central’s defense, which got an interception from William Dukes IV, gave up 295 total yards but limited Mentor to 102 yards rushing on 39 carries.
“It means a lot to us and our coaches to go to (the state final) back-to-back,” Dukes said. “My class and others have been doing our best to adjust to this whole (COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic), but now it’s routine and we’re just ready to score one more point than (St. Xavier).
“(We’ll need to be) going 100 percent every play. We can’t give them anywhere to breathe and we need to be successful from all cylinders and play our game.”
PICKERINGTON CENTRAL vs. CINCINNATI ST. XAVIER
•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13
•Where: Fortress Obetz
•Last meeting: 2016, St. Xavier 29-27
•St. Xavier (9-2) to date: Lost to Brownburg (Ind.) 30-24 (OT); defeated Cincinnati LaSalle 24-10; def. Cincinnati Elder 38-24; lost to Indianapolis Cathedral 25-22; def. Cincinnati Moeller 43-14; def. Cleveland St. Ignatius 62-37; def. Cincinnati Walnut Hills 49-13; def. Moeller 45-14; def. Elder 56-28; def. West Chester Lakota West 10-7; def. Springfield 12-10
•Central (11-0) 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; def. Mentor 38-31
•Top Bombers: Liam Clifford (WR), Matthew Devine (LB), Gabriel Dubois (DB), Charles Kellom (RB), Eli Kirk (DB), Brogan McCaughey (QB), Terrell McFarlin (WR), Jalen Patterson (WR) and Luke Vrsansky (RB)
•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)