The worst possible moment in the Olentangy Liberty High School football team’s improbable 24-20 victory over state powerhouse Cleveland Glenville Friday night may have been the best thing for the Patriots.
After trailing 13-3 in the first half, the Patriots were clinging to a 17-13 lead and were in the midst of a clock-consuming, 16-play, 86-yard drive when the Tarblooders’ Desmond West picked off a Brendon White pass and returned it 102 yards for a touchdown to give Glenville a 20-17 lead.
“(When that happened,) I thought I wasn’t a very good coach,” said Liberty coach Steve Hale, whose team countered with a five-play, 57-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown with 2:54 remaining. “In hindsight, it may have been the best thing that could have happened to us. We came together, we toughened up. It was unfortunate the way we had to find it, but in hindsight, that’s what makes us better.”
“I had faith. I had faith our offense would go out and put up points because that’s what we do,” tight end and defensive lineman Drew Rosi said. “Every time our backs are against the wall, we seem to come together more as a team. It helps us as a team.”
With the win, Liberty, 19-7 at home during the last five years, improves to 2-0 overall and Glenville falls to 0-2.
After White connected with Will Fowler for a 31-yard pass to the Glenville 24, fullback Matthew Webb rushed for gains of 5, 10, and 9 yards to cap off the Liberty comeback. Webb finished the night with 109 yards and two second-half touchdowns on 23 carries. White was the leader in passing, completing 10 of 21 for 73 yards with three interceptions, and rushing, rushing for 137 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
Rosi said after the offense worked so hard to regain the lead, the defense wasn’t about to let Glenville make one last big play against the Patriots. In Glenville’s final drive, Liberty’s defense sacked Tarblooders quarterback Xander Spikes twice and forced an incompletion on a fourth and 32 to seal the win.
“Our defense knew that if the offense could put up points we were going to hold them,” Rosi said. “We’re set up that if the offense is going to perform, we’re going to perform. We complement each other.”
Defensively, Liberty held Glenville in check for most of the game. The Patriots held the Tarblooders to 183 yards of total offense (98 yards rushing and 85 yards passing). However Glenville, which has produced such football luminaries as Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Cardale Jones and Dionte Whitner, showed off big-play potential. The Tarblooders picked up 122 of their total offense on three plays.
Trailing 3-0, Glenville went on a six-play, 96-yard drive for its first touchdown. A 50-yard run by Demerius Goodwin and a 48-yard pass from Jamel Hamm to Deon Reddick set up Goodwin’s 2-yard touchdown run with 1:02 left in the first quarter. The Patriots defense smothered Glenville’s Coby Bryant’s 2-point conversion attempt.
Glenville forced four Liberty turnovers in the first half. The most damaging was White’s fumble that was recovered by Jovonte Jones at the Glenville 36. Eight plays later, Spikes hooked up with Bryant for a 9-yard touchdown.
“We had our backs against the wall and we came through it,” Rosi said. “This was a big win for us. We have preached all along that beating North Alleghany and then Cleveland Glenville would jump start our season. It certainly has done that.”