The Big Walnut football team kicked off its postseason campaign with a gritty 24-20 win over Olentangy in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs Friday night in Sunbury.
The Golden Eagles’ perfect regular season earned them the No. 1 seed. The Braves were able to snatch the last playoff spot in the region with the OHSAA expansion to 16 teams per region making the playoffs.
Still, Big Walnut coach Rob Page expected it to be a battle.
“They are probably a handful of plays away from being 8-2,” BW coach Rob Page said of Olentangy. “They’ve gone through a ton of adversity in the last few weeks. This is exactly how I expected the game to go with these field conditions. Their coaching staff did a phenomenal job.”
Big Walnut (11-0) continued its trend of starting games fast and getting on the scoreboard first. The Golden Eagles went up 7-0 with 8:10 left in the first quarter when sophomore running back Nate Severs scored his 31st rushing TD of the season on a 5-yard carry.
Olentangy (3-8) was able to force a punt on BW’s second drive, but fumbled away the ball, allowing Big Walnut to get it back with a short field.
The Golden Eagles made sure to make the Braves pay for their error, too. It didn’t take long for sophomore quarterback Jake Nier to find junior receiver Grant Coulson for a 27-yard passing TD up the middle to make it a 14-0 game with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.
It started pouring in the second quarter, making it a very muddy track on Big Walnut’s grass field. The Braves were already playing sloppy and the weather made it worse as senior running back Malik Wade made a few Eagle defenders miss with some well-timed spins, then lost the ball. BW fell on it at the opposing 10, giving it a short field yet again.
Luckily for the Braves, BW was unable to get any yards and junior Cam Gladden tacked on a 33-yard FG to expand the BW lead to 17-0 with 7:36 left in the second quarter.
Just when it looked like things were going to get out of hand, though, the tide turned.
The Olentangy defense was able to get some momentum of its own as it intercepted Nier on a wild scramble play where it looked like he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds, but it didn’t travel far enough.
The Braves capitalized on the Eagles’ biggest mistake of the half. Sophomore QB Ethan Grunkemeyer hit fellow sophomore Gavin Grover for an 11-yard score with 1:10 left in the half. The Braves missed the ensuing PAT, and entered halftime down 17-6.
Olentangy got the ball to start the second half and wasted no time. Wade broke free from the defense and outraced a few BW defenders on his way to an 82-yard TD. The Braves converted the two-point conversion, cutting the lead to 17-14.
The Olentangy defense then forced a three-and-out on BW’s first second-half drive. The Braves did a good job of limiting explosive plays, especially from Severs.
“With these field conditions, they had a good gameplan,” Page said. “They loaded the box. We’ll learn from it. We played tough, physical football. In the end, the team who wins is the team who makes less mistakes. We’ll get better.”
Olentangy had all the momentum and a chance to get the ball back early in the fourth, but muffed the punt, giving the Eagles the chance to take control.
A few plays later, Severs found the end zone for his second score of the night and a 24-14 Big Walnut lead with 8:37 left.
Olentangy’s quick strike offense answered with a 75-yard bomb from Grunkemeyer to Jackson Wiley. The Braves failed the 2-point conversion, but only trailed 24-20 with eight minutes left.
Olentangy got a chance to take the lead with under four minutes left, but the Golden Eagles intercepted Grunkemeyer in the final seconds to secure the win.
Big Walnut will host Canal Winchester next Friday, who it beat 45-24 last week to complete its quest for a perfect regular season.