Liberty falls in regional final


SPRINGFIELD — A dismal offensive showing did Olentangy Liberty in on Friday night as the Patriots fell to the Springfield Wildcats, 19-0, in the Division I, Region 2 final.

Springfield quickly went to work on its first drive of the game following a Liberty punt. Quarterback Te’Sean Smoot connected with receiver Ben Van Noord for 41 yards on the first play from scrimmage, moving the ball into Liberty territory at the 46-yard line.

Ten plays later, Smoot powered into the end zone from two yards out to give the Wildcats an early 7-0 advantage with 4:41 remaining in the first quarter.

Liberty was unable to pick up a first down on its next drive, punting the ball back to Smoot and the Springfield offense. Beginning at their own 30-yard line, the Wildcats marched six plays down to the Liberty 32. On third and two from the 32, Van Noord took a screen pass from Smoot and raced 32 yards to the end zone, increasing the Springfield lead to 13-0 less than a minute into the second quarter. The extra point was blocked by Liberty.

In a hole and badly in need of a drive, the Liberty offense was able to pick up a first down. Stephen Dirksmeier’s 7-yard carry moved the ball out near midfield, but the drive would stall from there as Mitchell Fields punted the ball back to Springfield.

The two teams traded stops over the next several minutes before Springfield took over at its own 21-yard line with just under four minutes left in the opening half.

Smoot found receiver Anthony Brown on a 35-yard completion to get the drive rolling, and another completion to Brown, this time on fourth down, continued the drive deep into Liberty territory. Three plays later, the duo connected once more for a 15-yard touchdown, capping off an 11-play drive.

The extra point was blocked by Liberty once again, but Springfield’s lead had increased to 19-0 with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter.

Liberty was able to muster just 70 yards of offense in the first half, while Springfield wracked up nearly 300 yards en route to a commanding halftime lead.

With their backs up against the wall and a season on the line, the Liberty defense rose to the occasion to begin the second half. Springfield received the opening kickoff and needed just three plays and a personal foul penalty on Liberty to move the ball to the Patriots’ 24-yard line.

In danger of receiving a knockout blow, Liberty’s Drew Thornton pounced on a fumble by Van Noord and returned the ball to the Springfield 40.

But as was the theme throughout the night, the Liberty offense was unable to solve the Springfield defense, despite the great field position. An illegal block in the back penalty on second down put the Patriots behind the chains, and Fields was sacked on third down, forcing yet another punt.

After another stop by the defense, Liberty put together its best drive of the game. Dirksmeier took a first-down handoff and dashed to the Springfield 29-yard line. But the Springfield defense would buckle down from there, stifling the Liberty offense once more.

Fields’ scramble on fourth down from the Springfield 17-yard line was stopped short of the first-down marker, turning the ball back over to the Springfield offense late in the third quarter.

Interceptions by Liberty’s Joseph Dierker and Dominick Magistrale thwarted Springfield drives late in the second half, but the offensive drive they so desperately needed would never come as the final minutes ticked away on the Patriots’ playoff run.

After the game, Liberty head coach Steve Hale said his offense’s inability to move the ball wasn’t a matter of preparation but a lack of execution.

“We just had a tough time blocking their defensive line,” Hale said. “When (Springfield) didn’t have to adjust, it made us have to work really hard, and we just couldn’t find the right things here or there at the right time.”

Hale said he was incredibly proud of how hard his defense played, especially given how much time they spent on the field. He said he challenged the defense at halftime to raise its level of play, and it did just that, pitching a shutout over the final two quarters.

Ultimately, Hale said he was proud of the way his team responded to difficult circumstances throughout this season marred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had all these great opportunities with great kids,” Hale said. “They’ve done a great job all year long, and we’re really, really proud of them. They’ve battled through a lot of things. Obviously, this didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but I think they’ll find in time that they’ll be really proud of the achievements that they did have.”

Springfield’s Te’Sean Smoot eludes Olentangy Liberty’s Josh Piela (44) during the first half of Friday’s Division I, Region 2 final in Springfield.’s Te’Sean Smoot eludes Olentangy Liberty’s Josh Piela (44) during the first half of Friday’s Division I, Region 2 final in Springfield. Ben Stroup | The Gazette

By Dillon Davis

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Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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