Pioneers set to open playoffs against Lions


The Olentangy Orange football team has some pretty darn good players scattered up and down the roster.

Defensive end Zach Harrison has over 20 scholarship offers, including Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State and Alabama.

Linebacker Bryce Houston, an Ohio University commit, was the OCC-Buckeye Division co-defensive Player of the Year and Jayden Rodgers, another D-I player, has two picks, a kick return for a touchdown and a couple receiving TDs this fall.

Quarterback Luke Schmeling has more than 1,000 yards passing with 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Nate Gadrim and Jake Zinn anchor one of the best offensive lines in the area and kicker Grant Simon has made eight of his 12 field goal attempts.

And the list goes on.

Manny Anderson has come up with some huge grabs, Graham Starn has more than 700 yards rushing to go with eight TDs, Garrett Runyon has 361 punt return yards, Zane Fisher has eight tackles for loss and Jack Applegate powered into the end zone 13 times.

What makes the Pioneers particularly tough to deal with, though, is their ability to play as a team.

“November is for football teams,” Orange coach Zebb Schroeder said. “I think our team realizes how everything fits together (offense, defense and special teams) in order to make us successful in playoff games.

“This team is also very close and they want to go out and give special effort in order to keep this thing going.”

The Pioneers, who will make their second straight appearance in the Division I playoffs Friday, earned the No. 3 seed in Region 2 thanks to a stellar 9-1 regular-season campaign.

Their reward? A home game against sixth-seeded Gahanna Lincoln (6-4) Friday night in Lewis Center. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

“They are very skilled … a talented team that’s played a tremendous schedule,” Schroeder said of the Lions. “Their losses are to four very good football teams.”

The losses, in case you were wondering, came to Cincinnati Elder, Pickerington Central, Reynoldsburg and Pickerington North. Central and North are both playoff teams.

Part of Gahanna’s success stems from an offense that can really put up points. The Lions scored 40 or more points three different times this season, including a 62-35 win over Grove City on Oct. 20.

“Their offensive skill is something else,” Schroeder said. “They have two of the best receivers in Central Ohio in David Miller and Otis Buckner and one of the best quarterbacks throwing to them in Mike Lowery. Their running back is also very dynamic in Justus Harris.

“We’re really going to have to be sound in our back seven and we’re going to have to tackle really well in space.”

Gahanna’s defense has given up some crooked numbers over the course of the season, including 45 points in the loss against Pickerington Central and 35 in the setback at North, but still has its share of playmakers.

“They are strong up front,” Schroeder said. “Karter Johnson is an absolute stud. He will be playing on Saturdays on TV pretty soon. We’re going to have to make sure we get their front blocked with all their movement and pressures.

“Their secondary is also really good … and fast. They like to play a lot of man coverage, and they can because their corners are so skilled.”

Orange’s Zach Harrison (13) and Jayden Rodgers celebrate during a game earlier this season in Lewis Center. The Pioneers open postseason play Friday against visiting Gahanna Lincoln.’s Zach Harrison (13) and Jayden Rodgers celebrate during a game earlier this season in Lewis Center. The Pioneers open postseason play Friday against visiting Gahanna Lincoln. Ben Stroup | Gazette

By Ben Stroup

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