Central, Mentor yet to win title
Although Pickerington Central and Mentor are separated by 176 miles of Ohio pavement, their football teams find themselves in a strikingly similar place entering the Division I state championship on Friday night in Canton.
Over the past two decades, both programs have been on the doorstep of capturing the elusive gold trophy, only to come up short. Pickerington Central dropped title games in 2006 (in Division II) and 2011, and Mentor did the same in 2006, 2007 and 2013. They have qualified for the playoffs a combined 35 times, winning 62 games and reaching 11 final fours.
“One of us is going to go home with our first state championship, and it’s going to be awfully sweet,” 15th-year Pickerington Central coach Jay Sharrett said.
Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno, who is in his 21st year, and Cardinals fans perhaps have been tortured worse, losing 36-35 in double overtime to Hilliard Davidson in 2006 and falling to Cincinnati Moeller 55-52 in a record-setting final four years ago.
“As coach Sharrett will probably tell you, every team and every year is different, and all you’re really thinking about is what’s at hand now,” Trivisonno said. “We’ve had a lot of great teams here over the years. It’s impossible to compare, really. Getting to this point is incredibly difficult. Both of our teams are really battle-tested.”
To get here, Mentor (13-1) beat longtime northeast Ohio nemeses Cleveland St. Ignatius and Lakewood St. Edward, and then Olentangy Liberty, in succession. Pickerington Central (13-1) took out unbeaten Hilliard Bradley, crosstown rival Pickerington North and Cincinnati Colerain. Both teams have won their share of close games.
On paper, it looks like an even matchup. Mentor is scoring 41.4 points per game and allowing 22.1. Pickerington Central scores 33.5 and yields 17.1.
“Unlike our last few opponents, Mentor runs and throws it with equal efficiency out of their spread,” Sharrett said. “They really challenge you defensively with what they do. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”
The Cardinals offense runs through senior quarterback Tadas Tatarunas, who has passed for 3,228 yards with 30 touchdowns. He has five receivers between 400 and 1,000 yards and a pair of 1,000yard backs in Elijah McDougal and Chris Edmond. McDougal is expected to return after missing the semifinal with a sprained ankle.
Mentor’s top defensive player is 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior defensive tackle Noah Potter, who already has been offered by Ohio State, among others. His brother, Micah, is a basketball player for the Buckeyes.
Sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw is the catalyst for Pickerington Central’s offense, having rushed for 1,218 yards and 18 touchdowns and thrown for 1,500 yards and 13 TDs. The Tigers traditionally spread the wealth in the pass and run game.
“They’re athletically as good as anybody we’ve seen, and that’s saying something when you look at our schedule,” Trivisonno said. “I hear they have something like seven Division I athletes, and I believe it. We’ve faced teams with more big-time players, but maybe not as many from top to bottom like Pickerington does.”
Another thing Central has going in its favor is an attacking, opportunistic defense. The Tigers are plus-21 in turnover margin. Mentor is plus-1.
“I haven’t even seen their stats, but just from watching film, I can see that they feast on turnovers,” Trivisonno said. “They not only get them, but they score off them. That’s going to be a big key for us, not turning the ball over to them.”
Pickerington Central quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw, a sophomore, has rushed for 1,218 yards and 18 touchdowns and thrown for 1,500 yards and 13 TDs.