By Aaron Blankenship
Westerville, Ohio – Upper Arlington coach Justin Buttermore knew his team would be at a disadvantage in terms of talent and higher-level size in their Division I, Region 3 final against Pickerington Central.
While the second-seeded Tigers have at least 10 players who have been offered Division I college football scholarships, including four offensive linemen and four defensive linemen, the seeded Golden Bears, have none.
Yet while UA couldn’t hope to match the Tigers’ physical size on the line of scrimmage, he was able to overcome that drawback through a combination of teamwork, effort and superior execution by beating Central, 21. -14, in an epic. thriller in three extra hours Friday night at Westerville Central.
Upper Arlington, who improved to 14-0, qualified for a state semi-final to face Lakewood St. Edward on November 26 at a neutral venue. The Golden Bears won their first regional title since going 15-0 and won the Division I state title in 2000.
“We were definitely overwhelmed in terms of size and stock players on both sides of the ball, and we knew they were going to use their big guys to try and wear us out as the game progressed,” said Buttermore. “Without a doubt, most people probably expected them to have the advantage in overtime because of their size, but we had a plan to stay in the game and our kids fought all night. Our kids had confidence in themselves and their teammates, and I’m so proud of the heart and effort of the whole team tonight because it took a team effort to win this game.
Upper Arlington’s offense was limited to just 235 yards on 61 plays. But wide receiver Chris Mazzaferri made five catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns, including a 20-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass in third overtime, which gave the Golden Bears a 21-14 lead. .
“It’s our smokescreen and it worked well with a great blocking in front of me, and it was huge because it gave us the momentum,” said Mazzaferri. “It’s been (21) years since Upper Arlington was regional champions and we’ve taken our tradition of success back to what it once was.
“But give credit to our defense because they made huge saves the entire game and we wouldn’t have won this without them.”
Indeed, UA’s defense forced two turnovers and stopped the Tigers in five of their six conversion attempts on the fourth down and 13 of their 17 conversion tries on the third down.
Kuyper Lashutka had two interceptions, including one in the end zone to keep the first overtime scoreless.
On a game of fourth and goal from the 1-yard line in the second overtime, a multitude of Golden Bears converged to stop Tyler Gillison without gain.
And on a fourth and one-on-8 goal in third overtime, linebacker Collin Ansel ran from touch to touch to sack quarterback Braden Mantooth to end the game.
“Collin is having a great year, and he, Jake Badgeley and Doug Ryan fought all game against their big linemen,” said Buttermore. “We’re an effort-based team, and it was a great effort from all of our defense to keep them scoreless in all three overtime.”
Linebackers Carter Brock (13.5 tackles), Chris Reynolds (nine tackles, one tackle for loss) and Asher Hamilton (four tackles, one tackle for loss) and fullbacks Doak Buttermore (7.5 tackles, one tackle for loss) defeat) were also in charge of UA’s defense. , Luke Frederick (seven tackles) and Jack Purcell (three tackles, one tackle for the loss).
“We’re not the greatest team so we have to fly towards the ball,” Badgeley said. “We had this mentality of never giving up all season. We just tried to get into the backfield to tackle and put pressure on their quarterback to make them throw a bad ball.
UA opened the game with an 11-game, 61-yard touchdown, which was capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Simon Monnin to Sam Cannon.
Monnin, who completed 13 of 27 attempted passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns, also threw a 32-yard pass to Mazzaferri early in the second quarter to give UA a 14-0 advantage.
Carson Gresock, the Central District offensive player of the year, ran just 87 yards on 30 carries and had three catches for 11 yards.
“On my first touchdown the two DBs let me pass them all the way to the end zone, and (Monnin) put him in the air and all I had to do was go up and get it back, ”Mazzaferri said. “Pickerington Central has great defense, but we played with a lot of heart and chemistry and made big plays when we had to.”
Central reduced their deficit to 14-7 before halftime, as Gino Williams pushed his way into the end zone on a two-yard run, a play after Gillison broke away for a 60-span. yards.
The Tigers then opened the second half with a 14-game, 80-yard touchdown, capped by an 11-yard run through Gillison’s cross.
Just three games later, Gillison returned a 33-yard interception for another score; but the touchdown was erased from the board by a personal foul penalty on the kickback.
While UA was only penalized once for five yards, the Tigers were plagued by 14 penalties for a total of 95 yards.
With the loss, Central finished 12-2 overall and ended their streak of five consecutive regional titles.
“We played with precision at times, but we didn’t play with precision at other times,” Central coach Jay Sharrett said. “It seemed fair when we started things we had a severe penalty that would really hurt us.
“We were beaten by a great Upper Arlington team tonight and there’s no shame in that.”
Gillison, a Cincinnati rookie in defense, rushed for 93 yards and a score on 13 carries and had a reception for eight yards.
Mantooth had 17 passes for 25 passes for 109 yards with passes completed by 11 different receivers.
But UA’s defense has held up relatively well against Central’s massive offensive line, which includes four linemen who have already been offered college football scholarships for left tackle Kobe Asamoah (Rutgers), right tackle Kyle. Imboden, left tackle Keilan Smith and right guard Khalil Walker.
“Considering how talented they have, we played the lights on the whole,” said UA nose guard Doug Ryan.
UA defensive tackle Jacob Pritchett added, “We didn’t really care who they had on their team or where they were going to play next year. It was just another big game for us, and we all did our jobs to win it.