LEWIS CENTER — In an up-and-down season in which Olentangy Orange head coach Zebb Schroeder felt like his team was just a few plays away from winning many more games, his Pioneers team saved their best performance for last in a 23-7 win over rival Olentangy Liberty on Friday night.
Orange running back Jakivion Calip rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, and freshman quarterback Levi Davis threw for 112 yards and also rushed for a touchdown to help the Pioneers close out the regular season on a high note.
Liberty quarterback Andrew Leonard completed 22 of his 38 passing attempts for 189 yards and a touchdown to lead the Patriots, but Liberty’s running game was non-existent against a relentless Orange front that dominated the line of scrimmage for much of the game.
“When you look back at it, we were right there in some of those games,” Schroeder said following the win. “And it’s not ‘could have, should have, would have,’ but we were just showing that we have a young team. It comes down to six or seven key plays that we call ‘hinge points’ to get them to understand that in those games where we didn’t finish, we were lacking those plays. Tonight, we didn’t play flawless, but we played pretty well when it comes to situational football and making plays when it really mattered.”
The game got off to an inauspicious start for Orange when an early mistake by Davis led to a quick hole for Orange. Liberty’s Jack Kendall intercepted Davis at the Liberty 45, sending the Liberty offense back onto the field with great field position for their second drive of the evening.
Six plays later, Leonard connected with Jacob Chapman for a 10-yard touchdown strike to cap off a 55-yard drive that gave Liberty an early 7-0 lead midway through the opening quarter. Leonard was perfect on the drive, completing all five of his passes for 50 yards and the touchdown pass.
Looking to answer the Liberty touchdown, Orange began the ensuing drive at their own 32 and went to work on a methodical, 14-play march. Completions of 13 and 10 yards by Davis had Orange on the move near midfield, and a key third down completion of 15 yards to Jacob Lattig kept the drive alive as Orange neared the red zone.
Consecutive runs by Calip moved the ball inside the Liberty 10, and he finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to level the score at 7-7 less than a minute into the second quarter.
Brayden Hatcher’s sack of Leonard quickly ended Liberty’s next drive, and Orange was threatening again midway through the second quarter. After corraling a bad snap, Davis scrambled for 18 yards on a broken play that set Orange up with a first down at the Liberty 16, and Calip’s 9-yard run to the 7-yard line had Orange facing third and a yard to gain.
Liberty’s Bryce Byrd swooped into the backfield and wrestled Calip to the ground for a loss of yardage, however, and Orange was forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Carter Musgrove and a 10-7 lead with 5:41 remaining in the half.
Offense continued to be difficult to come by for Liberty following the field goal as Orange forced another quick Liberty punt.
Taking over at their own 31 with just over three minutes left in the half, Davis and Calip combined to engineer a masterful drive to add to Orange’s lead just before the half. A trio of completions by Davis moved the ball inside Liberty territory, and a 27-yard scamper by Calip had Orange knocking on the door at the Liberty 1.
Bobby Ogles busted into the end zone on the next play, and Orange claimed a 17-7 heading into the halftime break.
Calip finished the half with 91 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while a suffocating effort from the Orange defense led to just 102 yards of offense for Liberty.
The two teams traded punts to begin the second half, but Liberty punter Geno Saccoccia pinned Orange deep in their own territory at the 5.
In desperate need of a quick stop, the Liberty defense delivered. Facing a third down, Davis was swarmed by a host of Liberty defenders in his own end zone but was given forward progress to avoid a safety.
Still, Orange punter Evan Eichel was forced to stand on the backline of his own end zone as he received the snap. His 53-yard punt was a good one, but the Liberty offense was set up at the Orange 42 to begin the drive.
As was the story of the game, however, the Liberty offense was unable to come away with points. Leonard’s 31-yard pass to Struck on third down temporarily gave Liberty life as they moved to the Orange 10, but three consecutive incompletions forced a 27-yard field goal attempt by Bliss Archibald nearing the end of the third quarter.
Archibald’s kick missed wide right to turn Liberty away without points, however, and Orange began to zero in on their biggest win of the season.
Zachary Austin’s interception of Davis deep in Liberty territory momentarily breathed new life into the Liberty sideline, but the Orange defense quickly rendered the turnover irrelevant as Liberty once again went three and out.
In a last-gasp effort, Liberty head coach Steve Hale elected to go for it on fourth down from his own 20, but consecutive pre-snap penalties on Liberty forced Hale to send his punt team back onto the field with less than eight minutes to play.
In a position to deliver the knockout blow, Davis and the Orange offense did just that after starting at the Liberty 39. Calip and Ogles combined for six consecutive carries totaling 23 yards to move the ball inside the 20. Facing a third down, Davis polished off the win with a 15-yard touchdown run on a wide-open bootleg.
The extra point attempt failed following a bad snap, but it was no matter as the Orange sideline began celebrating their win over their district rival.
“We have a lot of young kids playing,” Schroeder said. “We have sophomores littered around the field, a freshman quarterback, and some key juniors in place. So just having the experience and confidence —we’re down a lot of guys with injuries — the natural thing to do is say, ‘Gosh, we’re down all these guys.’ No, it’s next man up, and let’s go plan to win this sucker. And let’s do it through our preparation and playing really hard, and I think they’re starting to see that that’s what high school football is about. It’s crucial, but they have to see it and do it for themselves.”
With the win, Orange finishes the regular season with a 4-6 record, while Liberty falls to 5-5.