FOSTORIA, Ohio — As Alex Okuley looked in a touchdown pass from Andrew Leonard late in the fourth quarter, finding a way to win the game was the only thing crossing his mind in the moment.
Okuley’s touchdown grab with 2:27 remaining did exactly that as eighth-seeded Olentangy Liberty advanced to the Division I, Region 2 finals next week with a 14-3 win over the fourth-seeded Perrysburg Yellow Jackets on Friday in Fostoria Memorial Stadium.
Leonard tossed two touchdown passes on the night to lead Liberty, and the Patriots defense held Perrysburg to just one field goal in a performance that was nothing short of a grind.
Liberty forced a Perrysburg punt on the opening drive of the game but was unable to muster a first down before sending out its own punt team.
Okuley’s evening got off to a rough start after he shanked the punt off the side of his foot, however, and the ball traveled just 16 yards before rolling out of play at the Liberty 47 to set up Perrysburg in prime field position to begin its second drive.
A 20-yard completion from Perrysburg quarterback T.J. Takats to Gavin Fenneken on the second play of the drive quickly had Perrysburg on the move near the Liberty 30, and six plays later, Perrysburg was knocking on the door with a first down at the Liberty 6.
Takats was intercepted by Okuley in the end zone after forcing a late throw, however, and Liberty thwarted the Perrysburg scoring opportunity.
Liberty needed just three plays on the ensuing drive to strike first. Leonard found Evan Nelson for a 68-yard touchdown to cap off a three-play scoring drive, giving Liberty a 7-0 lead with 44 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Perrysburg appeared poised to level the score midway through the second quarter with a 12-play drive that moved the ball to the Liberty 13. Perrysburg could only muster a 36-yard field goal from kicker A.J. Bibb, however, and Liberty took a 7-3 lead into the halftime break.
Perrysburg dominated the time of posession in the first half, holding the ball for nearly 26 minutes while Liberty was on the field for less than six minutes. But Liberty had the edge where it mattered most, and it would never relinquish it in a physical second half with both teams’ seasons on the line.
The Liberty defense again rose to the occassion to begin the second half after its offense went three and out on the opening kickoff of the third quarter. Perrysburg drove to the Liberty 22 but was once again forced to settle for a field goal attempt, but Bibb never got the kick off this time.
A bad snap forced the Perrysburg holder to scramble before eventually running out of bounds well short of the line to gain, turning the ball back over to Liberty early in the fourth quarter.
Still clinging to a 7-3 lead, the Liberty offense was back on the field and went to work on a season-defining drive beginning at its own 27.
Leonard began the drive with completions to Nelson and Wilson Roberts for a total of 12 yards before the Liberty running game finally showed some life. Five consecutive carries by Ryan Schapker netted 25 yards, and Liberty was in business at the Perrysburg 36.
A false start threatened to stall the drive before a big gain by Schapker on third down set up Liberty up with a 4th and 4 at the Perrysburg 25.
With the game growing very late, Leonard and the Liberty offense remained on the field, and it delivered in a big way.
Okuley reeled in Leonard’s pass at the 6-yard line before taking immediate contact from a Perrysburg defender. Okuley shrugged off the hit and fell into the end zone, sending the Liberty sideline and crowd into pandemonium as Liberty increased its lead to 14-3 with just 2:27 remaining.
A last-ditch effort by Perrysburg was denied as Liberty’s Nicco Sciulli recovered a fumble to send Leonard and the offense back onto the field in victory formation and on to the regional finals.
“This team’s been through a lot,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said following the win. “(We were) 0-3 with the possibility of not even having a winning season. I can’t say enough about these kids and what they’ve been through and how they’ve battled through it, the way they’ve survived. I’m just so proud of them, I’m so proud of our coaching staff, and everybody.”
Hale credited the strength of Perrysburg’s program and added, “This what you expect in the third round of the playoffs, and we’re just very fortunate to come out on top.”
With the win, Olentangy Liberty advances to play the top-seeded Springfield Wildcats in a rematch of the 2020 Division I, Region 2 final. Springfield won that game, 19-0.