How do you top that?
Olentangy’s 24-21 win over Toledo Whitmer in the second round was, no doubt, a thriller.
Jacob Bell’s 52-yard field goal was perfect in its imperfection. That it bounced in off the left upright only added to the thrill of the moment.
“It might be one of the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Olentangy coach Mark Solis said after the game Saturday.
So, the question facing Olentangy Saturday night — against second-seeded Stow-Munroe Falls in the regional semifinal round at Arlin Field in Mansfield — is: Will they be able to put last week’s game in the rear-view mirror?
Easy, the opponents only get tougher.
“The field will go from eight to four,” Solis said. “To be one of one of those four, we’ve got to be physical – we’ve got to secure the football.”
So, how will they turn the page?
“We really had no choice – we had to get back to work the next morning,” Solis said. “I don’t care what kind of win it is, you only have 24 hours to enjoy it because you’ve got to move on to your next opponent.”
That next opponent is Stow (12-0) and when the two teams match up, Olentangy will be the lower seed for the first time since 2008 when they traveled to Sylvannia Southview as the seventh seed in the first round (both Olentangy and LaSalle were the top seeds in their regions when they met in the Division II state semifinal last season).
The game begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mansfield Senior High School.
In both playoff games this season, Olentangy (11-1) faced a rushing attack led by two backs and a quarterback.
The duo of Chris Atkinson and Mikah Price in the Elyria backfield, along with quarterback Dontae Beckett, led an offense that averaged 238 yards on the ground.
Toledo Whitmer was led by a running back duo of Malik Moore and Larry Patterson, along with dual-threat quarterback Chase Bodeman, who similarly averaged 239 yards rushing through 11 games.
But, in those two games, the Olentangy defense has held opponents to 174 yards per game, about 65 yards under each team’s average.
“I thought we did a great job last week of matching Whitmer’s physicality and we need to do that again because that’s one of the things that stands out to you on tape against Stow,” Solis said. “They’re physical, they run well and they’re very well-coached. So it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Stow is a little bit different. There’s no two-headed monster in the backfield and the quarterback isn’t as likely to run, but the result is still the same. The Bulldogs average almost 239 yards rushing through 12 games.
“They’re athletic, they’re fast,” Solis said. “Hey, listen, they’re 12-0 for a reason. It’s just another formidable challenge for our guys.”
Running back Jayson Gobble gets most of that on his own. He’s rushed for 2,007 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. And almost as impressive – he has no fumbles in 255 carries this season.
“Anybody that rushes for 2,000 yards gets your attention real fast,” Solis said. “Obviously, they’re really good up front. We got a workout for us – they’re good.”
Kyle Vantrease does run a little, but is more of a pocket passer than Olentangy’s two previous playoff opponents. Vantrease has thrown for 1,830 yards on 120-of-222 (54 percent) passing, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“I think he’s being pretty well-recruited – he’s got a couple of offers already,” Solis said. “He’s a big kid, spins the ball pretty well (and) he’s got pretty good field awareness. He’s another guy that we’ve got to watch out for.”
Olentangy is averaging 104 yards per game rushing in two playoff games, 101 yards below its regular season average.
“We actually ran the ball as a team pretty well last week,” Solis said, referring to the combined total of 148 yards.
Ali Iverson led the way with 66 yards on the ground and a touchdown. He also picked up a key third-down conversion on the final drive that set up Bell’s field goal.
“(But) at the end of the day, we do have to do a better job of running the ball, there’s no doubt about it.”
The winner gets the winner of top-seeded Lakewood St. Edward against fifth-seeded Euclid in the regional final.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette. Email: [email protected]