POWELL — Led by a balanced offensive attack and a suffocating defense, the Olentangy Liberty Patriots are moving on in the OHSAA Division I State Playoffs following a 35-7 beatdown of Kettering Fairmont on Friday night.
Liberty quarterback Mitchell Fields led the way for the Patriots, completing 23 of his 30 attempts for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Aidan Kenley added 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries for the Patriots.
Coming into the game, Fairmont hoped to dominate the time of possession with its triple option offense. However, after receiving the opening kickoff, it was the Liberty offense which was asserting its will on the Fairmont defense with a lengthy drive.
Starting at their own 21-yard line, Fields and the Patriots engineered a 15-play scoring drive that chewed up nearly seven minutes of the opening quarter. Kenley capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to open the scoring and give Liberty an early 7-0 lead over Fairmont.
Fields was 7 of 8 on the drive, and Kenley carried the ball six times for 30 yards and the score.
Looking to answer with a drive of its own, Fairmont started its first drive at its own 23-yard line. The Firebirds quickly moved the ball to near midfield before the Liberty defense would rise to the occasion.
Facing a fourth and one from its own 45-yard line, Fairmont head coach Dave Miller elected to keep his offense on the field. A handoff to running back Tank Gant was stuffed by Patriots linebacker Brian Yamokoski, however, turning the ball back over to the Liberty offense inside Fairmont territory.
Nine plays later, Fields found receiver Dominick Magistrale for a 13-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Liberty lead.
After forcing a Fairmont punt on the ensuing drive, the Liberty offense was back on the field, looking to pull away early. The drive looked promising after a 21-yard completion from Fields to Chase Brecht moved the ball to the Fairmont 36-yard line. But Kenley would cough up the football on the following play, and Fairmont’s Justin Tole recovered, giving the Firebirds new life.
The Liberty defense would once again rise to the occasion, however, forcing a three-and-out for Fairmont and preserving the 14-0 lead at the half.
After dominating the first half, Liberty wasn’t without some adversity as the two teams came out of the locker room to begin the second half. On the sixth play of Fairmont’s opening drive of the third quarter, Firebirds running back Drew Baker outraced Patriot defenders 61 yards to the end zone, cutting the Liberty lead to 14-7 less than four minutes into the third quarter.
In need of an answer, the Patriots offense delivered the defining drive of the game. Set up with great field position following a failed onside kick attempt by Fairmont, Liberty marched eight plays in just under four minutes, finishing the drive with Kenley’s second score of the night and pushing the lead to 21-7.
Fairmont would never threaten again as Liberty continued to pull away with Fields’ second and third touchdown passes of the night.
Following the game, Liberty head coach Steve Hale said he was pleased with how his team responded to Fairmont’s push to begin the second half.
“You need that, certainly in the playoffs,” Hale said. “Things do not come easy in the playoffs. They came out and punched us in the mouth to start the second half, but our offense responded really well. The defense recovered and did really well after (the Fairmont touchdown).”
Hale added, “Our kids just played really sound, disciplined football. (Fairmont’s) kids do, too. That score is not indicitive of the effort their kids gave tonight … We’re just very fortunate that it turned out the way that it did.”
Hale said it was difficult to simulate the Fairmont offense throughout practice this week, given its style, but as the Patriots were able to build a lead, it worked in his team’s favor as time became a significant issue for Fairmont.
With Dublin Coffman’s win over Springboro, Liberty (7-1) will now have its rematch with the undefeated Shamrocks (8-0), who gave Liberty its lone loss of the season earlier in the year. The game will be played Friday at Dublin Coffman.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.