By Michael Rich
Obi Anunike made an impact in his return from a broken collarbone and Olentangy cruised to a 44-13 win over Big Walnut in the opening game of OCC-Capital Division play on Friday night in Lewis Center.
Anunike, who described his return as “an amazing feeling,” caught 10 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for a score, too.
“He gives you a few more options in the playbook,” Olentangy coach Mark Solis said. “He certainly opens up our offense.”
On the first play from scrimmage, Anunike caught a backward pass and then fired deep to Jacob O’Donnell for a 36-yard touchdown.
“We’ve been running that play (in practice) … we didn’t know if we were going to run it, but coach trusted me and I threw a dime,” Anunike said.
He caught back-to-back passes for 38 yards two possessions later, his first receptions of the season, to get Olentangy down to the Big Walnut 20.
Olentangy (4-1, 1-1) turned the ball over twice to the Eagles. Deeb Haber tried to get a pass off to avoid a sack, but with nothing on it, it was intercepted by Kaleb Kocak at the line of scrimmage. Kocak found daylight and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown, giving the Eagles a 7-6 lead after the extra point.
“The pick-six — we did that a couple of weeks ago against Liberty and we feel like we gave them all of their points tonight,” Solis said. “The really, really good teams don’t turn the ball over, and that’s something that we’ve got to get shored up.”
“Turnovers are huge,” Big Walnut coach Joe Weaver said. “Anytime you can get the ball back to your offense is a big plus.”
The miscue hurt, but Haber still had a big-time game, finishing 23-for-27 for 305 yards, three touchdowns and the one interception.
Haber found O’Donnell on a slant from 13 yards out to give Olentangy the lead back at 13-7 to cap a drive with 17.8 seconds left in the first quarter. O’Donnell caught seven passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Anunike caught a slant pass at midfield and raced to finish off a 64-yard touchdown with 8:24 left in the half. He caught Haber’s two-point conversion pass at the line of scrimmage and then stretched for the conversion to give Olentangy a 20-7 lead.
“I ran a slant and I think I stiff-armed the safety and just broke off,” Anunike said.
Matt Priestas recovered an Olentangy fumble for the Eagles on a punt return and returned it 40 yards down to the three-yard line, setting up David Hunt’s one-yard score, which cut the Big Walnut (1-3, 0-1) deficit to 20-13 with 4:56 left before the half.
“I don’t think we were good in the special teams tonight,” Solis said. “We got to get that cleaned up.”
Anunike capped his big first half with a five-yard touchdown on a slant from Haber to extend Olentangy’s lead to 27-13 with 6.5 seconds left before the half.
Olentangy’s Cam Kennedy found daylight on the first drive of the third quarter around the left side and scampered 22 yards for his only touchdown of the night. He finished with 117 yards on 17 carries for the game.
Evan Garcia rushed 26 times for 93 yards to lead Big Walnut on offense.
“He’s got the ability to take a crack and turn it into a big play and he plays hard,” Weaver said.
Ali Iverson added a one-yard run with 2:56 left in the third quarter and Jacob Bell kicked a 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for the final margin.
Next up, Olentangy travels to district-rival Olentangy Orange while Big Walnut hosts county-rival Delaware Hayes. Both games are set for Friday night and begin at 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.