Throughout Olentangy Berlin’s 14-game history, the Bears have had their chances to notch wins, but their inability to finish games has stood in the way.
On Friday night, Berlin showed it’s capable of finishing strong. For the first time in the program’s very brief history, it secured a division win as it rallied past Delaware Hayes in the opener of OCC Cardinal play, 32-21.
The game featured a little bit of everything, including a lightning delay that suspended things for more than an hour.
Berlin started the game strong, taking the opening kickoff and putting together a 10-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in a 43-yard field goal by kicker Jacob Lewis to give the Bears an early 3-0 lead.
Delaware Hayes responded immediately, however, engineering a scoring drive of its own on the ensuing drive.
After beginning the drive with an incomplete pass, Hayes ran the ball eight straight times, capped off by a Luke Jackson 2-yard touchdown run to get the Pacers on the board and take a 7-3 lead with under five minutes left in the first quarter.
After trading punts on the next two drives, Berlin took over deep in their own territory when disaster struck. Quarterback Jacob Moeller was unable to handle a low snap, which was ultimately recovered by Hayes’ Keishawn Mack at the Berlin 4-yard line.
The Pacers wasted no time cashing in on the costly Berlin turnover as Jahi Broussard-Nash took a handoff and busted into the end zone from four yards out to push his team’s lead to 14-3 with just under a minute left in the first quarter.
Berlin would miss a 52-yard field goal attempt by Lewis on its next drive before lightning in the area forced an hour-long pause in the action with Hayes in possession of the ball and 6:49 remaining in the first half.
Following the break, Hayes was forced to punt and Berlin went to work with great field position, starting its drive in plus territory at the Hayes 48-yard line.
Berlin showed no signs of rust and a lot of heart after the long lightning break. After a short carry by running back Johnny Spinner and a pass-interference call on Hayes, Moeller would finally get the Bears into the end zone, racing 30 yards to the house and cutting the Pacers’ lead to 14-10 with 4:45 left in the second quarter.
The two teams traded punts to open the second half before Hayes increased its lead to 21-10 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. Quarterback Blake Eiland found receiver Colby Cooper in the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown throw and catch. The touchdown capped a 12-play, 70-yard drive that ate up more than four minutes of game clock.
But just as they did earlier, the Bears would answer once more. And continue to answer.
On the backs of Moeller and Spinner, Berlin finished off an 11-play drive with a 20-yard scamper by Spinner to bring the Bears to within five points at 21-16. Berlin faked the extra point and Moeller, who was serving as the holder, found Adrian Pettograsso for the two-point conversion to cut the Hayes lead to three points at 21-18.
Following a Hayes punt, Moeller and Spinner went back to work down three points with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.
Ten plays later, Berlin faced a fourth down at the Hayes 36-yard line with three yards needed to extend a crucial drive as the fourth quarter wound down. Moeller’s number was called and he picked up the necessary yardage and then some, breaking through multiple tackles to reach the end zone from 36 yards out and send Berlin Stadium into a frenzy as the Bears reclaimed a lead, 25-21, for the first time since the opening drive of the game.
With plenty of time still remaining in the fourth quarter, the Hayes offense took the field looking to put together a game-winning drive, but that drive would be short-lived.
After a carry by Broussard-Nash to start the drive, Eiland’s second-down pass deflected off the hands of his receiver, Nabil Abdus-salaam, and was intercepted by Berlin defensive back Justin Rader — his second interception of the game. He returned it 40 yards to the end zone behind a convoy of blockers to seal the deal and give Berlin a second win for the first time in program history.
Moeller finished the game 11-for-21 passing for 102 yards, and Spinner led the way on the ground with 117 yards and the touchdown on 21 carries.
Eiland led the Pacers with 91 yards rushing on 19 carries. He added 73 yards passing and one touchdown while completing 10 of his 17 attempts.
Following the game, Berlin head coach Mark Nori said the team has continued to learn throughout their losses, and now they can continue to learn while being on the right side of the final score.
“In all the losses, we were able to learn a lot about ourselves,” Nori said. “But even in this win, we can learn a lot, too. We went in after the lighting delay and we weren’t playing particularly good football … (Hayes) had all the momentum going into that lighting break.”
Asked about his team’s ability to finish in the game, something it has struggled to do, Nori said he wasn’t sure what clicked, “but when our kids stopped thinking about all the extraneous stuff that was going on around them and just went and played football tonight, they showed what they are capable of doing.”
Spinner said the team was too “even-keeled” in the first half but “the energy changed” amongst the team as they began the second half.
“Last year, we couldn’t figure out how to win a game,” Spinner said. “We’d have really good first halves, and in the second halves, we just couldn’t get it done. This just proves that we’re finally starting to click as a team. Coach (Nori) told us we are winners since day one and now we’re figuring it out.”
“This feels amazing,” Moeller said of the win. “We’ve grown so much from last year, we’ve stepped it up a lot … it’s all about finishing the game.”
While Spinner said the team will definitely enjoy the win tonight, he said they won’t be satisfied and will get right back to work, starting with their Saturday morning workout.
Berlin will attempt to keep the good vibes going next week as it hosts Worthington Kilbourne (0-4). Hayes will look to get back on track as it hosts Dublin Scioto (1-3).