POWELL —Despite four turnovers, Olentangy Liberty rode a dominant rushing attack and an opportunistic defense to a 38-17 win over Hilliard Bradley on Friday night.
Running back Aidan Kenley led the way for the Patriots with 183 yards rushing and a touchdown, and quarterback Mitchell Fields totaled three touchdowns as the Patriots moved to 3-1 on the season.
Liberty wasted no time in establishing control of the game. Following a three-and-out by the defense, the Patriot offense seized a lead it would never relinquish. Fields found receiver Cam Barcus on gains of 9 and 18 yards to move the ball into the red zone. Following a 10-yard carry by Kenley, Fields hit Dominick Magistrale for a 4-yard touchdown pass to cap a five-play drive and give the Patriots the early 7-0 lead.
Bradley was unable to get much going on its second possession of the game, punting the ball back to Liberty with 5:14 remaining in the first quarter. Less than two minutes later, Liberty increased its lead on Fields’ second touchdown pass of the game, this time to Chase Brecht from 4 yards out. Kenley served as the catalyst on the drive, rushing five times for 67 yards.
Kenley would finally get in on the scoring action on Liberty’s next drive, powering into the end zone from a yard out to up Liberty’s lead over Bradley to 21-0 with 11:31 still remaining in the second quarter.
In desperate need of a spark, the Bradley offense was still unable to sustain a drive. However, the Jaguar defense would come up with a pair of big plays as Caden VanVorhis picked off Fields deep in Liberty territory on consecutive drives. The Jaguars were able to turn the two turnovers into 10 points, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 21-10 with 2:32 remaining in the half.
Kenley’s 84-yard kickoff return would recapture some of the momentum for Liberty, setting up a 25-yard field goal by Tyler Rosselli that sent Liberty into the half with a 24-10 lead. Kenley finished the first half with 199 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
Bradley (1-3) quickly cut the lead to a single touchdown on their opening possession of the second half. Jaguars quarterback A.J. Mirgon connected with Kenyon Richardson for an 8-yard strike that brought them to within seven points at 24-17 with 6:39 remaining in the third.
Disaster nearly struck on the ensuing drive when a fumble by Kenley was recovered by Bradley at Liberty’s 33-yard line. Bradley moved the ball to the 14 yard-line, but was turned away by the Liberty defense when Brian Yamokoski stopped Mirgon short of the first down on fourth down, turning the ball back over to Liberty.
Liberty again gave the football away on a second fumble by Kenley on the next drive, but the Patriots’ defense would once again rise to the occasion. Mirgon’s third-down pass was tipped and intercepted by Frederick Noday, who returned the ball out to the Liberty 40-yard line.
Five plays later, Rosselli scampered into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown run to increase the Patriots’ lead to 31-17.
Following a turnover on downs by Bradley on the ensuing drive, the Patriot offense went to work on the defining drive of the game. Fields’ 13-yard touchdown run finished off a 10-play drive that took six minutes off the clock, giving the Patriots a 38-17 lead with just over three minutes left to play, essentially ending any threat of a comeback by the Jaguars.
Following the game, Liberty head coach Steve Hale lamented the turnovers but said he was also happy with the way his team responded to adversity.
“They battled,” Hale said. “I’m pleased that they battled. Obviously, we can’t turn the ball over, so we’ll go back and work on ball security … we just made a few mistakes. Guys get excited when they get in the open field, they get that ball kind of lose, and it comes out. Those are great lessons to learn, especially when you win. We’ll look at the film, see where we made mistakes, and we’ll get them corrected.”
Hale said he was very pleased with the way his offensive line played on the night, paving the way for a huge rushing performance by the Patriots, as was he with his defense, which was forced into several quick turnarounds due to turnovers.
“You never know how things are going to benefit you,” Hale said. “Putting our defense in those spots, maybe later in the season that will be experience that they have.”
Liberty returns to action next Friday when it hosts Hilliard Davidson.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.