CANTON, Ohio — Elder High School won't soon forget its 2019 football team.
Although the Panthers (12-3) completed the season as Division I state runners-up Friday night in Canton, they'll keep countless memories from the fall leading up to the championship game.
"It's been a fun journey," Elder coach Doug Ramsey said. "Great kids. And that's really the hard thing about this. It's one of the top teams I've enjoyed coaching."
Pickerington Central defeated Elder 21-14 in the Division I state final Friday night in front of 6,690 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. It is the second state title for Pickerington Central (14-1), which also won the D-I title in 2017.
The Tigers scored the game-winning touchdown Friday night with 3:41 left when senior quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw found junior wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. for a 49-yard touchdown pass connection. Crenshaw was 14-of-16 passing for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 62 yards on 19 carries.
Pickerington Central was 5 of 5 on fourth-down conversions.
"They made plays when they needed to," Ramsey said.
Elder had 298 yards of total offense, including 187 yards on the ground. Senior quarterback Matthew Luebbe was 10 of 17 passing for 111 yards. He rushed 20 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore wide receiver Drew Ramsey, Doug's son, had six receptions for 65 yards.
Defensively, senior safety Colton Sandhas had a game-high 11 tackles.
Like so much of this postseason, Elder found itself in a tight battle late in the fourth quarter.
"We've had so many games that came down to a last possession this year," Ramsey said. "Credit to our kids. I think the one thing was how much better we've gotten on defense as the year went on. I think if we would've played these guys in Week 1 they would've scored a lot more than 21 points against us. I think that's one of the things that allowed us to make this run. Because we didn't have one of our better offensive nights, but I will give them credit on defense."
Elder held an early 7-0 lead when Luebbe scored on a 33-yard touchdown at the 5:40 mark of the first quarter. That completed a 7-play, 74-yard drive for the Panthers.
The Tigers responded at the 9:40 mark of the second quarter, when junior running back Nick Mosley scored on a 19-yard touchdown to help tie the game at the 9:40 mark. That completed a quick 3-play, 47-yard drive for the Tigers.
The teams exchanged punts before Elder sustained a lengthy drive that started at its own 19. Luebbe found senior tight end Joe Royer for a 21-yard pass connection to the Pickerington Central 46. Luebbe followed that with a 13-yard run on the next play.
Four plays later, junior tight end David Larkins caught a 7-yard pass from Luebbe to the 11-yard line. However, Elder missed a 22-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the second quarter to keep the game tied at 7 at halftime.
The Panthers were sharp to start the second half. The Panthers started at their own 22 and scored nine plays later when sophomore running back Joseph Catania went into the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run at the 7:22 mark of the third quarter to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead. That completed a 10-play drive that took 4:31.
The Tigers tied the game when Crenshaw found sophomore wide receiver Tyler Gillison for a 7-yard touchdown pass connection on fourth down at the 10:16 mark of the fourth quarter.
That touchdown completed a lengthy drive that included Crenshaw's escape from multiple Elder defenders on fourth down and 10 at the Elder 32 late in the third quarter, which resulted in a 12-yard pass for a first down.
"That's a huge play," Ramsey said. "We had the opportunity a couple times to bring him down. He's a big dude. He did a good job."
Pickerington Central is ranked No. 19 nationally by MaxPreps, making it the highest-ranked Ohio team. Elder moved up one spot to No. 21 nationally this week.
Elder and Pickerington Central each appeared in the state finals for the fourth time, respectively. Friday night was the third all-time meeting between the programs. Elder and Pickerington Central most recently played in the 2016 opener at Nippert Stadium prior to Friday night, which Pickerington Central won 20-14.
Only one state final this weekend in Canton featured schools that had played each other before in the playoffs prior to the state final. Elder and Pickerington Central played in the 2008 state semifinal, when Elder won 24-10.
Elder made its 21st postseason appearance in program history this fall. Elder made its fourth state finals appearance Friday night. The Panthers won the Division I state titles in 2002 and 2003 and were also D-I state runners-up in 2008.