The Olentangy Liberty football team has not only shown remarkable consistency by making the playoffs for the 11 time in the school’s 16-year history, but the Patriots are playing in Week 12 for the sixth time.
The fourth-seeded Patriots got a 33-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Okuley to Ryan Ritter with 6:40 left to knock off fifth-seeded Gahanna to vault them to the Division I regional semifinal for the third straight season and fourth in five consecutive playoff appearances.
“We were able to make a big play in the fourth quarter – Mitch completed a pass to Ritter for the touchdown,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “It was a big play at the time and it ended up being the difference in the game.”
The Patriots (7-4) also knocked Gahanna out of the playoffs in a nail-bitter last season.
“It was kind of the same game we played against them last year,” Hale said. “It was just a battle back and forth. We were just fortunate enough to come out on top.”
Liberty gets top-seeded Reynoldsburg for its efforts. The game which will be played at St. Francis DeSales’ Alumni Stadium in Columbus tonight at 7 p.m.
“Our guys have been through quite a bit of adversity this year,” Hale said. “We hope that (experience) plays to our favor just a little bit.”
The Raiders (10-1) rolled over eighth-seeded Toledo Start 52-0 Friday night, giving them a 2-2 mark in three playoff bids.
Reynoldsburg did it in all three phases. Michael Whatley threw for four touchdowns, Breydon Eddings added a pick-six, Darian Abron followed with a scoop-and-score and Princeton Hoskins filled it out with a punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I think we’ll take the same approach to it as we have in the past,” Hale said. “Hopefully, our kids will know that they’ve faced really talented teams in the past and performed well at times. Hopefully, that’ll help us in this situation.”
Eddings had three interceptions in the win, giving him five for the season.
Camby Goff (27.5 tackles and two interceptions), Dezman Cooper (36.5 tackles, 17.5 TFL and 9.5 sacks), Ke’Shun Moorer (53 tackles, 11.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks), Jay Amburgey (29.5 tackles, 13 TFL and 8.5 sacks) and Jeremiah Burton (40 tackles, 11 TFL and four sacks) lead a defense that held Start to just 45 yards of total offense and forced seven turnovers.
“We looked at (the Start) game on film and they looked very impressive,” Hale said. “They make plays and they had a couple of defensive scores. So, they do a great job of taking advantage of every opportunity they are given.”
Whatley (1,626 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions), Mershawn Rice (462 yards and five touchdowns) and Guy Cowans-Wright (475 yards rushing and eight touchdowns) lead the Raiders on offense.
“We’re really going to have to focus on fundamentals and technique and just do our best to keep everything in front of us and make tackles when we need to,” Hale said.
The winner gets either second-seeded Dublin Coffman or third-seeded Toledo Whitmer in the Region 2 final Nov. 16 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.