Blue chip-laded Dublin Coffman will be a given, the obvious result of being both unbeaten and starting two players on their way to Ohio State next year.
The next team would probably be Hilliard Darby. With perhaps the area’s top quarterback in Jeremy Ebert, this year’s Panthers are particularly remarkable given the rather unremarkable history of football at the school.
The team many might forget to mention is Pickerington Central.
Friday night’s 30-6 win at Westerville South secured at least a piece of a second consecutive OCC title and the Tigers’ perfect record has them No. 6 in the most recent state poll. But the combination of a low-scoring offense, a number of narrow margins of victory and a somewhat star-less starting lineup seems to have left Central out of the spotlight.
The Tigers are essentially the area’s ‘other’ 9-0 Division I team. And they don’t appear to mind one bit.
“I definitely think we’ve been under the radar,” said Central linebacker Zach Boren. “We kind of look at ourselves as underdogs, that’s how we play.”
Central scored on its first five possessions Friday, including three short touchdown runs by three different players, to effectively put the game away halfway through the second quarter. Ultimately 11 players would run the ball for Central, the group averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
The defense for Central was particularly impressive, limiting South’s dangerous junior quarterback Cortez Fleming to just 11 net yards rushing and a 1-for-11 night passing. The Wildcats (3-6) finished with 116 total yards of offense.
Friday was the sixth time this season the Tigers defense has kept its opposition in single digits. Central opponents are averaging less than 8 points per game.
But the South game was one of the first times the offense has kept pace.
Helped by some great early field position, Friday’s total was the fourth time this fall Central has scored more than 19 points.
The team has won two overtime games and more than half of its wins have come by a touchdown or less.
But the Central players say that if and when they get a shot at some of the more highly-touted teams in the area – Friday’s win clinched a first round playoff game for Central, according to joeeitel.com – they feel confident in their ability to match up.
“You hear a lot about Coffman and nobody thinks you can stop that Darby quarterback,” said Trae Myers, one of Central’s tailbacks. “But I think we can play with any of those teams. I would love to see our defense go up against those offenses.”
This weekend’s OHSAA computer prognostications have Central second in Region 3, sandwiched between top-seeded Darby and Coffman. With Coffman and Central facing weaker opponents in Week 10 (the Tigers host winless Mount Vernon), the current order should hold if all three win this Friday.
That means Central should host a team from the pool of Lancaster, Gahanna, Upper Arlington, Kilbourne and Groveport, followed by a second round game with Coffman and a regional final against Darby.
That is certainly not the easiest path to the state semifinals. But Friday’s point total, Central’s highest so far this season, had the post-game confidence level high with two weeks left before the postseason gets underway.
“I think the offense is starting to click a little more,” Myers said. “It feels like we’re getting everything going.”