Still looking to build out the program in its fourth season, Olentangy Berlin head coach Mark Nori preached to his team this summer the importance of believing it can compete against the best.
On Friday night, Nori and the Bears took a significant step forward in that regard, toppling defending state runner-up St. Francis DeSales, 17-12, in Delaware.
Colin Pethel scored on a 57-yard catch and run to give Berlin a 10-6 lead late in the first half, and a 12-yard keeper by quarterback Harrison Brewster late in the third quarter would prove to be all the Bears would need to move to 1-0 on the season behind a stifling defensive effort.
The game got off to an inauspicious start for DeSales and quarterback Whit Hobgood, who was intercepted by Bears defensive back Bennett Lawrence on the second play of the opening drive. Bennett returned the interception to the DeSales 14-yard line, setting up the Berlin offense with a prime opportunity to draw first blood.
DeSales would rise to the occasion, however, forcing a 24-yard Berlin field goal to open the scoring.
Both teams traded stops through much of the remaining first quarter before the DeSales offense would finally strike. With just six seconds remaining in the first quarter, Hobgood capped off an eight-play drive with a keeper from the 1-yard line to push the Stallions out into the lead, 6-3.
Disaster nearly struck on the ensuing kickoff as Berlin’s Nick Tiberio fumbled the kickoff, turning the ball back over to the DeSales with a short field to work. DeSales couldn’t make Berlin pay, however, as Joey Bangert’s 29-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
With the offense back on the field, Tiberio went back to work, atoning for the blunder by churning up chunk yardage. Three consecutive carries by Tiberio totaling 42 yards had Berlin out at midfield. Following a keeper by Dylan Reyes, Brewster connected with Pethel for the long touchdown strike, regaining the lead for the Bears at 10-6.
DeSales appeared poised to recapture the lead just before halftime after a methodical, 17-play drive had the Stallions down inside the Berlin 10 yard-line. But the drive would end up stalling, and the Stallions missed their second short field goal of the evening to preserve the Berlin lead heading into the break.
The two teams traded stops to open the second half before Berlin began to take full control of the game. On their second possession of the half, and with good field position, Brewster engineered a nine-play drive that he finished with a 12-yard scamper to increase the Berlin lead. The extra point made it 17-6, Berlin, with 8:27 still to play in the third quarter.
Berlin was in prime position to deliver a knockout punch late in the third quarter, moving the ball to the DeSales 12-yard line. But Brewster’s fumble on a keeper thwarted the Bears’ scoring opportunity and kept DeSales afloat as the game moved into the fourth quarter.
The solid play continued for the Berlin defense deep into the fourth quarter before Hobgood finished off a critical 12-play drive to cut the Berlin lead to 17-12; the two-point conversion was no good.
Forced to attempt an onside kick, Berlin was able to recover, sealing one of the best wins in program history for the Bears.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.