If nothing else, the Olentangy football team showed the value of playing until the end this season.
Given just a two-percent chance of making the playoffs by Drew Pasteur’s Fantastic 50 website going into its Week 10 matchup at Westerville Central, Olentangy needed a win and a lot of help to make its fifth straight and 13th overall trip to the playoffs.
Olentangy (5-5) took care of business on its own end with a 42-21 win at Central to share an OCC-Buckeye title with rivals Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy Orange.
Dublin Scioto, Chillicothe and Cincinnati La Salle – all ahead of Olentangy in the Week 9 computer rankings – all lost to open the door for Olentangy to get in as an eight seed.
“All the things that needed to happen – happened,” Solis said. “It’s a testament to the kids and their resiliency.”
The playoffs seemed out of the cards after a 1-4 start, and the fate further solidified after a loss at Liberty in Week 8.
“The human spirit – especially when you’re 16 or 17 years old – the tendency is that you’re gonna wanna maybe bag it,” Solis said. “So, that’s a testament to our kids’ toughness, mentally. It’s a tad short of remarkable.”
And though there’s a new lease on life – Solis’ job is now getting his squad ready for top-seeded and 2017 Division II state finalist Cincinnati Winton Woods.
“They’re fast, they’re athletic – so, we’ve got a heck of a challenge ahead of us,” he said. “But, we welcome the opportunity.”
The winner plays the winner of fourth-seeded Trenton Edgewood and fifth-seeded Morrow Little Miami Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at a neutral site to be determined.
(5) GAHANNA LINCOLN AT (4) OLENTANGY LIBERTY, Region 2
The beat goes on for the Patriots, who won a third straight OCC-Buckeye championship and earned a fifth straight trip to the playoffs and 11th overall in the school’s 16 years.
Liberty was in jeopardy of its first losing season since the team’s first after a 1-3 start, but it rebounded to win five of its last six games to finish 6-4, earning a regional quarterfinal home game to open the playoffs.
“You get into this tournament to do the best you can to make a run,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “I think we’ve prepared our kids with the schedule that we’ve had and the adversity that we’ve faced. You never know how each game is going to play, but I think we’ve done a nice job of preparing our kids for these difficult challenges.”
Mitchell Okuley missed most of two games early in the season and one of his leading receivers from last season, Ben Roderick, wasn’t able to play because of a torn ACL suffered last basketball season.
“We had to make some adjustments and other kids had to step up and, over time, they did that,” Hale said. “We don’t try to make any excuses. We just try to learn and keep moving forward.”
Waiting for Liberty is Gahanna – a rematch of last season’s regional semifinal won by the Patriots.
The Golden Lions (5-5) are in the playoffs for the 14th time in school history, including four of the last five years.
“They’re just a really talented team (that’s) well-coached,” Hale said. “It’s going to be a challenge. It’ll be very similar to what we’ve seen so far this year with the opponents that we’ve played.”
The winner faces the winner of top-seeded Reynoldsburg and eighth-seeded Toledo Start in the regional semifinal round Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at a neutral site to be determined.
(6) OLENTANGY ORANGE AT (3) TOLEDO WHITMER, Region 2
The Pioneers are in the playoffs for the third consecutive season and fifth time in school history.
But, Orange has mustered just one win (in 2009) – which is a source of motivation.
“I think more than anything – it’s just the natural progression of our program,” Orange coach Zebb Schroeder said. “We’ve gotten to the point now where our kids expect to win, they expect to be on this stage – competing for an OCC title and getting into the tournament. The next step is (to) make a run for the whole thing. Let’s keep going.”
Schroeder says his players look no farther than across the Olentangy River for motivation.
“Our kids have seen other teams we’ve played – like Olentangy Liberty – they’ve seen them make similar runs,” he said. “And it’s like, ‘Why not us? It’s our time now.’ That’s a big part of their fuel every day.”
Schroeder is familiar with Whitmer, having graduated from Archbold High School, which is about 50 miles to the west.
“It’s one of the premier programs in northwest Ohio,” Schroeder said. “It’s a tradition-rich football school. Growing up in the area – I know they were really good in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s. Football is really important there. I know for our kids – it’s going to be a great experience playing in their stadium. It’s a great place for high school football.”
The winner meets the winner of second-seeded Dublin Coffman and seventh-seeded Westerville Central in the regional semifinal Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at a neutral site to be determined.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.