It was not a work of art – not by any stretch.
But, after Friday’s 10-0 upset of top-seeded Reynoldsburg, the Olentangy Liberty football team finds itself playing for a regional championship for the third straight year. It’ll take on Dublin Coffman Friday night at New Albany High School.
The fourth-seeded Patriots forced four Reynoldsburg turnovers, blocked a field goal and had one big play on offense in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal win. That was all they needed.
Junior linebacker Ben Cox recovered a fumble in the second quarter to set up a short Mitchell Kershner field goal to give Liberty the lead and then blocked a Reynoldsburg field goal attempt to preserve it.
Mitchell Okuley – like he was shot out of a cannon – emerged through a hole up the middle and scampered 44 yards for the game’s only touchdown on the Patriots’ first possession of the second half.
“We knew they had good athletes and we knew they were going to make plays,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “We just tried to keep them in front of us (on defense) and we tried to make plays when we could (on offense). Their defense was obviously giving us some issues. We just gave our kids a chance and made the most of it.”
And that’s how Liberty has done it through two playoff games … three offensive touchdowns and a stout, opportunistic defense.
Hale credits the coaching of defensive coordinator Ed Miley for the team’s sure tackling.
“Coach Miley is one of the best around,” Hale said. “He’s been a head coach (Marlington) – he understands the game. He teaches those kids how to play team defense and he’s just done an amazing job with that group all year long. He gets those guys in the right position to be successful. He really does a great job studying film and he’s an outstanding coach.”
Liberty has only allowed 20 points or more twice this season and hasn’t allowed multiple scores since its 17-3 loss to rival Olentangy Orange in Week 9.
“They’ve done a great job the last few weeks – really all year long – fighting and battling and doing a great job of making plays, getting off blocks and making tackles,” Hale said. “They’ve been impressive at times.”
Meanwhile, Coffman, the second seed in Region 2, has scored 20 points or more in all but two of its contests this season (31 points per game).
Running back Mike Drennen II gets most of the attention when it comes to the Shamrock offense. But it was quarterback Ethan Brown who stole the show in the 43-20 win over third-seeded Toledo Whitmer Friday night.
Brown rushed for two touchdowns and threw for a third, leading the team with 76 yards rushing on 17 carries. He went 9-for-15 for 122 yards through the air.
“They have weapons on offense,” Hale said. “What you see at this point in the season is this kind of competition and you just have to hunker down on your fundamentals and your technique and hope that plays out for you.”
Like Liberty, Coffman’s defense had a big night with three takeaways. The biggest one came just out of halftime. The Rocks recovered a Tommy Colbert fumble on Whitmer’s first possession and turned it into a Brown 1-yard touchdown run three plays later to take a 30-14 lead.
“They’re just really solid and really well-coached,” Hale said. “They get to the ball. The defensive line does a nice job getting off blocks. Their linebackers see really well, have great vision and run to the ball very well. The fundamentals of the game are very evident when you watch them on film.”
The winner of Friday’s game will play the winner of the Mentor-St. Edward regional final in a state semi next Friday at a site to be determined.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.