POWELL – Forced to use some of the depth off a roster of 103, the Olentangy Liberty football team didn’t seem to miss a beat in spite of some key injuries.
Quarterback Jackson Roberts, making his first start, threw three touchdown passes to lead the Patriots to a 21-14 win over Groveport-Madison in a non-league matchup of a pair of previously undefeated teams.
Roberts, who was starting in place of Corbin Parrish, threw for 142 yards on 13-of-17 passing to lead Liberty.
“I felt good,” Roberts said. “I prepared all week and the team effort was great all around. My receivers got open. We ran some good, crisp routes and our line held their blocks. Everything came together.”
The Patriots (5-0) were also without back Aidan Kenley and linemen Jacob Sulewski, Ben Wrather and Matthew Wrather on offense and linebackers Dylan Stevens and Tyson Chapman on defense … but they didn’t miss a beat.
“Hopefully we’ll get a few guys into rehab and maybe get some of them back,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “If not, we gotta go with the guys that we have. We’ll figure it out and keep rolling.”
‘Next man up’ has become the mantra of many teams when it comes to injuries.
“I asked our team Monday, ‘Do you really believe it or is it true?’” Hale said. “Our kids never wavered on that. They expected their teammates who are new (to the lineup) to do positive things and to help us be successful … and they sure did that.”
Roberts tossed touchdown passes of 2 and 33 yards to Matt Hale and Jacob Kessler, respectively, in the second quarter to give the Patriots a 14-0 lead.
Brennan Rowe got the start in the backfield and ran for 74 yards on 26 carries – none bigger than a 9-yard run on third-and-2 with less than two and a half minutes to go in the game.
“Our team motto for the last two weeks – honestly – has been ‘Next man up,’” Roberts said. “Our team has really taken that to heart and it’s shown. Everyone that has been hurt – the next guy has come in, filled in and done his job well. We’re just going to keep that going moving forward.”
The run let Liberty salt the game away after Groveport’s John Motton returned a punt 25 yards for a touchdown to pull the Cruisers within a score.
“I was very, very pleased with all of our players,” Hale said. “But – obviously – we’re incredibly pleased with our players that were out there for the first time tonight. Jackson will get a lot of that attention.
“But there were some new linemen, some new linebackers and some new running backs … I’m just really proud of all of them for stepping in the way that they did.”
Groveport was held to just 7 yards of total offense and no first downs for much of the first half before piecing together a 97-yard drive on its last possession of the first half.
The Cruisers (4-1) used a 47-yard run by Jashaun McGraw and three third-down conversions to set up an Emmanuel Anthony 2-yard run to cut their deficit to 14-7 right before halftime.
“We weren’t really ever able to establish anything on offense,” Groveport coach Bryan Schoonover said. “I thought they had a great plan for us defensively. I just thought they did some of the little things a little bit better than us.”
McGraw finished with 82 yards on 14 carries to lead Groveport.
Roberts threw a 20-yard touchdown strike to Kyle Wilson to extend Liberty’s lead back to 14 with 9:11 left in the second half.
Liberty opens OCC-Buckeye play at Westerville Central Friday night at 7 p.m.
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