The Centerville Elks hadn’t turned the ball over six times in a game all season. In its last four games, the Elks had turned the ball over just seven times.
However, in the first half against Pickerington North on Friday, the Elks turned the ball over five times, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, that saw them down 28-0 at halftime.
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The Elks never recovered, falling to Pickerington North 42-12 in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal at Springfield’s Evan Stadium.
Centerville finished its season 10-2.
Elks coach first-year coach Brent Ullery was quick to point out the reason for his team’s struggles. The Elks threw four interceptions and fumbled twice in the loss.
“We haven’t turned the ball over like that all year, but I’m not going to blame it on anything we did,” Ullery said. “Pickerington North is a phenomenal football team. They’re well-coached, they have really good players — I’m not going to say it was anything we did. They played a really good game.”
Pickerington North senior quarterback James Weirick scampered 32 yards on a scramble with about nine minutes remaining in the first half, setting up a 13-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Jack Sawyer to make it 7-0.
After the teams traded possessions, the Panthers’ Eli Davis intercepted a screen pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0. Weirick then found Ty Wiley on a 52-yard touchdown pass to give Pickerington North a 21-0 lead.
On the next Centerville drive, the Panthers’ Tyler Potts returned an interception 55 yards to make it 28-0 with 2:49 remaining in the first half.
“We can’t turn the ball over, but that’s what happens when you play really good football teams,” Ullery said. “Their defense is really good. Their defensive line is really good. They’re phenomenal.”
Centerville attempted an onside kick to open the second half, but the Panthers recovered. A few plays later, Weirick scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown to increase Pickerington North’s lead to 35-0, triggering a running clock.
Centerville senior quarterback Alec Grandin and receiver Donovan Shelton hooked up for two touchdowns in the second half to cut the lead to 35-12.
The Elks got the ball back deep in Pickerington North territory, but another interception ended Centerville’s drive. With 9:22 remaining, Weirick found Wiley and he took it 91 yards for a score to extend Pickerington North’s lead to 42-12.
In Ullery’s first season, the Elks earned 10 victories — one less than the program had won in each of its previous two seasons combined. Centerville went 5-5 in 2016 and 6-4 in 2015.
This season, Centerville won the Greater Western Ohio Conference National East Division championship, advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and won its opening round playoff game.
“I just told them they made us all look better than what we really are,” Ullery said. “That’s what happens when you get a good group of kids like this and you get it going. We’re just really fortunate and it’s going to hurt to see them go.”
Grandin set a school record for passing yards in a season with 2,443 total yards, surpassing former teammate Jake Harrison, who tossed for 2,379 yards in 2015.
The Panthers (10-2) advanced to play third-seeded Pickerington Central (11-1) in the regional title game next week.