COLUMBUS – Junior Ben Cox doesn’t have the name recognition of others on the Olentangy Liberty football team.
That’s going to change after Friday night’s 10-0 Patriot upset over top-seeded Reynoldsburg in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal at St. Francis DeSales.
Cox recovered a fumble that led to the go-ahead score in the second quarter and blocked a potential game-tying field on the next possession for the fourth-seeded Patriots.
“He’s a wrestler, he’s a football player, he’s a great student and he just plays his butt off every time he goes out there,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “We’re so happy for kids (like him) – when things like this happen – just because they work so hard along the way. Sometimes they’re unnoticed along the way. But they work so hard, so when things like this happen – you’re really, really excited for them.”
The Reynoldsburg defense was stout in the first half – holding the Patriots to 28 yards of total offense. Punter Corbin Parrish was busy with four punts in Liberty’s first four possessions.
But, two fumbles on offense kept the Raiders off the scoreboard. Andree’ Mock fumbled a ball out of the end zone after a long gain through the air.
Liberty picked up a first down on the ensuing drive, but it stalled.
That’s when Cox took over. He recovered a fumble on a MarcAnthony Gray run to set up a Mitchell Kershner 28-yard field goal to give Liberty a 3-0 lead with 4:25 left in the half.
“I was playing back-side, so I had to fold over,” Cox said. “My teammates made the tackle and did everything for me. The ball was right in front of me and I just picked it up and tried to get to the end zone. But I didn’t make it.”
Cox also blocked a Cocy Goff 36-yard, game-tying bid with 54 seconds left in the half to allow the Patriots to take the lead into the break.
“A lot of times – they give up on the inside because the rush is coming from the outside,” Cox said. “Everybody gave full effort and I’m the one that got through and made the play.”
Mitchell Okuley finally broke through with a 44-yard touchdown run on the fifth play of the second half to push the Patriot (8-4) lead to 10-0 with 10:21 left.
“You keep plugging away and plugging away and then you get that one where the quarterback comes out with it and it’s hard to defend,” Hale said. “Mitch has been making plays for three years. So, I’m really happy for him to make the defining play in this game.”
Reynoldsburg turned it over two more times in the second half. Grant Wilson had an interception and Corbin Parrish recovered a fumble. But the Patriots couldn’t take advantage.
Michael Whatley led the Raiders (10-2) with 203 yards passing, completing 16 of 29 passes. Mock had 81 yards on four catches and Shon Strickland caught six passes for 78 yards for Reynoldsburg, which had just one first down in the second half.
“We had (four) turnovers and didn’t give ourselves a chance to mount any kind of drive,” Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White said. “We lost to a well-coached team. Our defense played well. The offense – in the first half – played well. We just never really got it going … and (four) turnovers are gonna kill you.”
Next up, Liberty faces second-seeded Dublin Coffman in a regional final Friday at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.