NEW ALBANY – The Olentangy Liberty football team has been here before. The highs are never too high and the lows are never too low.
The Patriots did it the same way they’ve done it all before: by putting their heads down and getting to work.
“Our locker room was very calm before the game, it was very calm at halftime,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “I don’t think there was a voice that raised above conversation at halftime. We’re not a yelling group – we just go about our business. As strange as it sounds – we have a blue-collar mentality in a town that really isn’t that.”
Senior Mitchell Okuley ran for three touchdowns to help fourth-seeded Liberty knock off second-seeded Dublin Coffman 21-7 Friday night to capture the Patriots’ third straight Division I, Region 2 championship.
Outside of an Okuley 44-yard touchdown run, Liberty was stymied offensively all night in its 10-0 regional semifinal win over top-seeded Reynoldsburg.
So, when Coffman punter Joey Mitchell pinned the Patriots inside their own 10 on three straight punts – the prospect of going the length of the field was daunting to say the least.
“That kid did a nice job there,” Hale said. “We just had to battle our way out of there. We tried to find little seams here and there.”
Thankfully, Okuley brought his carving knife. He completed a 6-yard pass to Aidan Kenley and a 14-yard pass to Mitchell Kershner to start the drive.
He found Jake Sincek for a 17-yard gainer two plays later and then Kyle Wilson for 16 more on the following play.
Okuley completed his fifth pass to Kershner for a gain of 21 after a 9-yard Kenley run.
Then, Okuley seemingly went back to pass a sixth time, but took off instead for an 8-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead with 6 seconds left in the first quarter.
“You don’t want to start on the 5-yard line every time,” Okuley said. “We kept grinding down the field. I was just going through my reads. They had a couple of holes and I just threw it to the people that were open – I didn’t try to force anything.”
Okuley ended up completing 13 of 17 passes for 171 yards and added 66 yards on 13 carries on the ground. Kershner was his top target with five receptions for 81 yards.
Grant Wilson and Kershner each had second half interceptions that were capped by Okuley 2-yard touchdown runs for the Patriots (9-4), who picked up their first win over Coffman in nine tries.
“We started picking up on their schemes,” Wilson said. “It wouldn’t have happened without a team effort. Our (line) – they had some pressure on (Coffman quarterback Ethan Brown) and it gave me a chance. I saw (him) release it and I broke on it and we got one. It was a big momentum-changer.”
Coffman was held to just 52 yards rushing on 27 carries as a team.
Brown finally got the Rocks (11-2) on the board with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Matt Dorenkott with 2:09 left in the game. The touchdown broke a 10-quarter shutout streak for the Patriots.
“Our team loves practice,” Wilson said. “We get after it every day. We had a good week of practice preparing for them.”
Brown went 18-for-30 for 184 yards. Bryce Hostetler had 58 yards on four receptions and Alex Dluzynski caught six passes for 38 yards to lead Coffman.
Liberty faces Lakewood St. Edward in the state semifinal Friday night 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.