Patriots take down top-seeded Celtics


DUBLIN — Sophomore quarterback Andrew Leonard tossed three first-half touchdown passes, and the Olentangy Liberty defense limited top-seeded and host Dublin Jerome to just two touchdowns as the Patriots rolled to a 28-14 win in the second round of the Division I, Region 2 state playoffs on Friday night.

Leonard completed 23 of his 27 attempts for 263 yards and three touchdowns on the evening, and receiver Alex Okuley hauled in five passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns to help lead Liberty to the win.

“We stay focused on our goals all year long, and we try not to panic,” Liberty head coach Steve Hale said following the win. “We play the hardest schedule we can possibly find to prepare us for this time of the season, and the level of talent we’ve gone up against and the adversity our guys have faced has created a lot of good quality players and they showed it tonight.”

Liberty got out of the gates quickly after Jerome received the opening kickoff to begin the game, forcing a three-and-out and an early punt.

Set up with quality field position at his own 39, Leonard and the Liberty offense wasted little time in taking an early lead. A 20-yard completion from Leonard to Evan Nelson moved the ball into Jerome territory on the second play of the drive, and six plays later, Ryan Shakper busted into the end zone from three yards out to give Liberty a 7-0 lead.

In an early hole, Jerome was quick to engineer a scoring drive of its own, marching 80 yards on eight plays. Luke McLoughlin found paydirt on a 10-yard touchdown run to level the score at 7-7 midway through the opening quarter.

Leonard began to heat up on the ensuing drive, completing six passes on eight attempts for 58 yards including a key third-down completion to Shapker as he was being taken to the ground to keep the drive alive.

Leonard found Nelson for a 13-yard touchdown pass to cap off the drive as Liberty regained the lead at 14-7 with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter, and Leonard was just getting started.

Liberty needed just two plays on its next possession to add to its lead as Leonard connected with Okuley for a 72-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 21-7 early in the second quarter.

After moving the ball to the Liberty 38 on the ensuing drive, Jerome appeared poised to cut into the deficit midway through the second quarter. A failed conversion on 4th and 2 doomed the drive, however, and Jerome’s inability to pick up short-yardage conversions would be a sign of things to come as the game grew late.

Leonard continued to deal late in the half as he threw his third touchdown pass on the evening, again to Okuley from 14 yards out as Liberty took a commanding 28-7 lead into halftime.

Badly in need of a quick start to begin the second half, Jerome showed some life by forcing a quick Liberty punt to begin the third quarter.

Jerome needed just one play to get back into the game as quarterback Zakk Tschirhart found Marek Tzagournis for a 20-yard completion, and Tschirhart outran the Liberty defense to the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was good, and Liberty’s lead was cut to 28-14 less than three minutes into the second half.

A Liberty punt ended its next possession, and the Jerome offense was back on the field looking to further cut into the deficit. Facing a 4th and 1 near midfield, McLoghlin was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain, though, as the Liberty defense once again rose to the occasion in a short-yardage situation.

A blocked field goal temporarily kept the door open for Jerome late in the third quarter, but yet another failed fourth down conversion by Jerome on 4th and 2 ended the ensuing drive as Liberty salted away the final eight minutes to keep its postseason alive.

“I’m just really happy for these kids,” Hale said. “They’ve been up against it all year. A 5-5 record, had a chance to win the league title and let it get away … To battle through it and be in this situation, I’m just really excited for them.”

With the win, Liberty advances to take on fourth-seeded Perrysburg in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal next Friday. The game will be played at a neutral site that has not yet been determined.

Olentangy Liberty’s Bryce Byrd (7) tackles Dublin Jerome’s Marek Tzagournis during the first half of Friday’s regional quarterfinal in Dublin. Liberty’s Bryce Byrd (7) tackles Dublin Jerome’s Marek Tzagournis during the first half of Friday’s regional quarterfinal in Dublin. Ben Stroup | The Gazette
Leonard leads Liberty to regional semifinal

By Dillon Davis

[email protected]

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

No posts to display