LEWIS CENTER – When it started, the Olentangy Orange and Olentangy Liberty football teams seemed to be in for a shootout.
But defenses settled in and the host Pioneers scored just enough points to knock off the Patriots 10-7 to clinch a share of the OCC-Buckeye championship Friday night.
“I wish we could have made it a little easier on our defense,” Orange coach Zebb Schroeder said.
Junior Dylan Dempsey came up with two big sacks in the fourth quarter to help stall a pair of drives in the final minutes. He had four tackles in total for the Pioneers (8-1, 4-0).
“I was really just finishing the game hard for our seniors,” Dempsey said. “Everyone said we weren’t going to win, so I just gave it my all in the fourth quarter and it worked out.”
Receiver Caden Konczak caught a screen pass and scored from 2 yards out to give the Pioneers a 10-7 lead with 8:34 remaining in the second quarter and Jack Behre’s 26-yard field goal three minutes, nine seconds earlier ended up being the difference.
Orange displayed some of that bend-don’t-break defense. Liberty gained 303 yards of total offense. But the Patriots’ chances came in the first half when they were in the red zone on three of five possessions.
“It’s a family bond,” said junior Joey Guagenti, who made a key interception early in the fourth quarter. “Our teammates are our brothers and we work hard together every single day to come out here and do things like this.”
Brennan Rowe scored from a yard out to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead to cap the first drive.
The second drive ended with a Keaton Butler 20-yard field goal that missed wide left.
The Pioneers forced fumbles on the third and final first-half possessions and escaped on a turnover on downs on the other when Jackson Roberts’ pass was low on fourth-and-1 at Orange’s 14.
“We moved the ball up and down the field,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “I felt like we moved the ball every series we were out there except for maybe one. You can’t turn the ball over and you can’t have penalties. So, we’ll go back and watch film and fix those things.”
Liberty had five penalties for 50 yards, but a holding penalty near midfield on its second to last possession proved costly. Dempsey made the first of his two fourth-quarter sacks on the next play and the Patriots ended up turning it over downs.
The Patriots forced a three-and-out, but used all of their timeouts and got it back at their own 12 with a minute left. Dempsey sacked Roberts on the second play of the series.
A.J. Rausch caught a 19-yard pass in traffic to get the Patriots near midfield. But a hook-and-lateral was snuffed out on the game’s final play.
Jadon Ampadu had eight tackles, Zach Hill had six and a half and Cardan Mutai and Jared Pack each recovered fumbles for the Pioneers on defense.
Hawkins finished 19 of 30 for 152 yards and Zane Lattig led the Pioneers with 11 catches for 83.
Roberts went 26-for-37 for 263 yards and an interception. Dom Magistrale had seven catches for 71 yards, Camden Barcus caught six passes for 70 yards and Rausch had five receptions for 59 yards to lead the Patriots (8-1, 3-1).
Ryan Bird had eight tackles and blocked a field goal, Drew Thornton added 7.5 tackles and Brian Yamokoski added 6.5 tackles on defense for Liberty, which held Orange to just 208 yards of total offense.
“They’re a heck of a defense,” Schroeder said. “Trying to find holes in their defense is hard. I really believe that a really big part of why they’ve been so successful with all of their injuries (is because) the core of the defense has been there and they’re really good.”
Orange closes the season at home against Westerville North and Liberty travels to Westerville South next week. Kickoff for both games is Friday at 7 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.