COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Both No. 1 Upper Arlington and No. 2 Pickerington Central have played at the highest level for this entire season.
Friday night at Westerville Central Warhawk Stadium, the Tigers (12-1) and Golden Bears (13-0) will battle it out for a game that will put the winner just one step away from the State Championship.
Pickerington North reached the Elite Eight off a 27-7 win over in-city rival Pickerington North.
Upper Arlington is coming off an impressive showing against No. 4 New Albany blowing out the Eagles 41-10.
This high-level offense is no surprise for Upper Arlington as they have scored an average of 40 points per game this season making them one of the most effective offenses in all of Division I.
Golden Bears' coach Justin Buttermore said his strategy is always to have a combination between rushing the ball with star running back Carson Gresock and passing with quarterback Simon Monnin.
"We'll try to be balanced. We'll try to do a bit of both," Buttermore said. "We're best when we can be balanced and execute well in the run game and in the pass game."
That balance was especially true last week as both Monnin and Gresock reached the endzone.
On the Tigers' end, defense has been a fixture for the team's success all season. In the postseason, they have not allowed more than ten points in a single game.
Pickerington Central also bolsters its defenders with a defensive line packed with four Division I college recruits.
Buttermore said he believes the Tigers' defense to be the best in all of Ohio.
"Their (Pickerington Central's) defense, I think is the best defense in the entire state," Buttermore said. "They haven't given up a ton of points during the year and I think they're the most talented defense we play all year."
On the offensive end, Pickerington Central trots out a team that is deep with talent from quarterback Braden Mantooth to running backs Orlando Kamara and Dylan Bryan.
This depth was in full display in the Tigers' 48-7 win against Grove City in the first round as six different players reached the end zone.
Buttermore said addressing Pickerington Central's variety on offense has been a goal of his defense throughout the week.
"We just got to be prepared for whatever personnel they throw out there," Buttermore said, "and try to play as good a team defense as best we can."
Upper Arlington, who is currently 13-0, has come a long way from ending the 2020 season with a dismal 3-5 record.
Throughout the year, Buttermore and his team have shown much improvement from the previous year.
Now, as the Golden Bears stand two games from competing for a state title, it is clear they have not only turned the page on last season but are reading a completely different book.
Buttermore said that this is because of his team's ability to play for something more than themselves.
"We've got kids that are playing unselfish football," Buttermore said. "They're playing for the team, and I think anytime you do that you're gonna have success."
On Friday at 7 p.m. under the lights of Westerville Central Warhawk Stadium, the Tigers and Golden Bears will compete for a chance at the state Final Four.
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