POWELL — Looking to rebound from a blowout loss a week ago, the Olentangy Liberty football team jumped on Olentangy Berlin early and never looked back en route to an emphatic 38-14 win over the previously-undefeated Bears on Friday evening.
Sophomore Patriots quarterback J.J. Sebert was effective both on the ground and through the air in what was, by far, his best performance of the season. Sebert tossed two touchdown passes and accounted for 213 of Liberty’s 282 yards of total offense.
“He’s a young kid,” Liberty head coach Steve Hale said of Sebert following the win. “He started his first game at Steubenville. And then we went against Glenville. And then we went against maybe the best team in the country. It’s been rough, but he’s growing up a little bit, and he keeps getting better every week.”
Liberty (2-2) wasted no time in getting the scoring started, taking the opening kickoff and marching 67 yards on 1o plays down to the Berlin 7-yard line. On third and goal, Sebert found receiver Alex Okuley for a 7-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to give Liberty the early 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the opening quarter.
The two teams traded stops on the ensuing two possessions before quarterback Dylan Reyes and the Berlin offense committed a costly mistake. On a second-down throw near midfield, Liberty’s Erik Thompson stepped in front of Reyes’ pass attempt for an interception and the first turnover of the evening. Set up with prime field position following the interception, Liberty quickly cashed in on the opportunity.
Following four consecutive carries by Chase Brecht that moved the ball down to the Berlin 10-yard line, Sebert tossed his second touchdown pass of the night, this time to Evan Nelson to increase Liberty’s lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.
In an early hole and badly in need of an answer, Reyes did not let the interception linger on the following drive. Completions of 13, 45, and 12 yards by Reyes had Berlin knocking on the doorstep in just five plays. One play later, a touchdown keeper by Reyes from a yard out got the Bears on the board and cut Liberty’s lead in half at 14-7 with 8:24 to play in the second quarter.
Liberty’s Connor Ingram added a 29-yard field goal just seconds before halftime to increase the Patriots’ lead to 17-7 as the two teams headed to the locker room.
Both teams traded stops to open the second half before the Liberty offense struck once again. After taking over near midfield, Sebert again connected with Nelson, this time for a 45-yard catch and run that moved the Patriots down to the Berlin 1-yard line. Brecht busted into the end zone on the next play, increasing Liberty’s lead to 24-7 late in the third quarter.
Things would only get worse for Berlin from there as the Liberty defense would put the finishing touches on the win with a little bit of style. Backed up to his own 10-yard line, Reyes’ pass was intercepted by Liberty linebacker Andrew Stamp, who raced 16 yards to the end zone for the touchdown. Ingram’s extra point had Liberty up big and in celebration mode as the Patriots took a 31-7 lead.
Stamp was not done, however. Just one possession later, Stamp was again racing up the sideline after intercepting a pass from Reyes. His 46-yard touchdown return put an exclamation point on the Liberty win, while officially ending Berlin’s unbeaten record.
Hale said he was proud of the way his team once again responded following a tough loss the prior week, showing some character as his team continues to find out who they are.
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are and what our identity is. We found a lot of different things today, we had a lot of guys contribute. We had young players contribute and some veterans as well. I like the fact that they battled. We’ve seen some adversity and, obviously, last week was difficult. We talked about having to bounce back and getting up when people knock you on the mat. I’m just really proud of the way our guys responded this week.”
Hale, who had said weeks prior that he had many players who were still trying to figure out how to be varsity players, said his team is taking steps forward in doing just that, with Friday’s win being the biggest to date.
“I think we took some steps forward. The offensive line got better, we protected our quarterback a little bit,” Hale said. “(Sebert) made some nice throws and he’s coming along. Defensively, obviosuly, it was a huge step forward for them tonight. They outscored them almost. That’s a really impressive feat by our defense. I’m just excited for the guys to see them having some success.”