Standing in front of his team following the game, Olentangy Liberty head coach Steve Hale told his guys, “Survive and move on.”
Survive is exactly what they did Friday night, overcoming three turnovers to defeat visiting Westerville Central, 14-7, and move on to the Division I regional semifinals.
Following a similar script to their Week 6 matchup, which Liberty won 17-7, yards and points were hard to come by as the two teams traded punts early and often.
Liberty finally broke through on its seventh drive when quarterback Corbin Parrish found Cam Barcus for a 23-yard touchdown strike to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead just before halftime. The touchdown was set up by a 29-yard connection between the duo earlier in the drive.
With just a minute left in the first half, Westerville Central tried to answer. The drive was thwarted, however, as quarterback Judah Holtzclaw was intercepted by Liberty’s Ryan Ritter to send the Patriots into the locker room with the 7-0 lead.
Most of the third quarter featured more of the same as neither team was able to muster much offense.
Disaster struck, however, for Liberty late in the third quarter as Parrish’s pass was intercepted by Westerville Central’s Zeke Healy and returned across midfield, giving the Warhawks excellent field position.
One play later, Luke Swaney was streaking into the end zone on a 33-yard touchdown catch from Holtzclaw to tie the score up, 7-7, with just under two minutes left in the third quarter.
The game remained tied deep in the fourth as it appeared more and more likely the game would be heading into overtime.
Parrish, who was a surprise starter in the game after being out since Week 4 with a knee injury, had other ideas.
With the clock under the four-minute mark in the fourth quarter and Liberty facing a second and one on its own 24-yard line, Parrish looked left and heaved a deep throw to receiver A.J. Rausch.
Rausch went up and caught the ball over a defender and stayed on his feet as he avoided another tackle, racing to the end zone and causing the Liberty faithful to erupt.
Tyler Rosselli’s extra point gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
But Westerville Central would not go quietly, and following a big completion from Holtzclaw to Swaney, the Warhawks found themselves at first and goal from the 2-yard line.
The Liberty defense wouldn’t break, though.
Rickey Hyatt was met in the backfield on first down for a loss of three yards. On second down, Westerville Central was hit with multiple flags, one for a false start and one for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, backing it all the way up outside its own 20-yard line.
Following a short completion on third down, Holtzclaw’s last-ditch throw to the end zone on fourth down fell harmlessly to the turf, sending the Liberty players into celebration mode and into the regional semifinals.
Following the game, Hale applauded his team’s ability to overcome adversity, as well as his defensive unit, which has been stout all throughout the season.
“Our defense has been phenomenal all year, and they played really hard,” Hale said. “They’ve been the backbone for us all year long.”
Liberty will take on Groveport in next week’s second round at a site to be determined.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.