By Michael Rich
It’s become a version of the Henry the VIII song with the Olentangy football team this year. The Braves overcame a tough first half and then outscored New Albany 24-0 in the second half to pick up the victory Friday night in Lewis Center.
Obi Anunike caught a 19-yard pass to give Olentangy (6-1, 4-0) the lead and Cam Kennedy scored two touchdowns to take control on the way to a 38-17 victory over New Albany (4-3, 3-1) to stay in a first-place tie in the OCC-Capital.
“It was a good win for us … a signature win,” Olentangy coach Mark Solis said. “We remained calm (at halftime). When you have (17 years of experience), the kids really look to you for leadership. We didn’t panic … we didn’t yell. We made some great adjustments.”
For the third time in the last four weeks, Olentangy was in a neck-and-neck battle in the first half, only to pull away in the second half to win convincingly. The Braves have outscored opponents 76-7 in the second half over that span.
After Olentangy forced a three-and-out to open the second half, and gained possession on the New Albany 42-yard line, quarterback Deeb Haber completed a 12-yard pass to Jacob O’Donnell to set up the 19-yard pass to Anunike, his second touchdown of the game.
The Olentangy defense forced a punt on the next possession, but New Albany recovered the ball after it hit a player on the back.
“That could have really hurt us,” Solis said.
Jacob Fleck intercepted Casey Horch two plays later, though, allowing Olentangy to get momentum back.
O’Donnell broke off a 33-yard run on a jet sweep to set up Kennedy’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run.
New Albany’s Victor White broke two long touchdowns in the first half and rushed for 152 yards on seven attempts.
He took the second New Albany play from scrimmage and went 71 yards to put the Eagles up 7-0 almost two minutes into the game.
White added a 75-yard scamper early in the second quarter that tied the score, 14-14.
But Olentangy’s defense was able to hold White in check in the second half. He was held to just 2 yards on five carries.
“This was a good test case for us, so to speak, to get ready for the playoffs,” Solis said. “You’re going to play in those types of games where it’s going to be tight and go — it’s going to be tough sledding. This was a good test for us.”
Olentangy held New Albany to 34 total yards in the second half. Jimmy Elmurr had 5.5 tackles, Alex Draime had 4.5 and Chris Crumb added four, including a sack.
“We made some really, really good adjustments on defense,” Solis said. “We weren’t winning the battle of field position in the first half and the 14 points came on two plays. We missed tackles and made (White) look better. So, we settled down and made some adjustments.”
Zach Shirk kicked a 32-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 17-14 lead at the half.
Anunike made the catch of the year on the drive following White’s first touchdown. Haber’s pass on third-and-seven at the Olentangy 45 was overthrown to a wide-open Anunike, but he reached out with his right hand, tipped it back to himself and easily got into the end zone to tie it, 7-7.
Anunike led Olentangy with 91 yards receiving on five catches and Haber finished 14-for-28 for 210 yards and three passing scores. He added 36 yards on the ground on three carries in the first half, but hurt his ankle. Though he remained in the game, he didn’t record another rushing attempt.
Olentangy grabbed the lead thanks to another long pass play. Haber found Sam Durst over the middle, who finished off a 51-yard pass play down to the 5-yard line.
Haber found Derrick Wyche for the touchdown on the next play.
Jacob Bell hit a 42-yard field goal and Kennedy scored on a 6-yard run on fourth down to cap the scoring. Kennedy was held in check in the first half, but finished with 94 yards on 26 carries, including 72 in the second half.
“He’s a tough cookie,” Solis said. “He’s one of the toughest football players I’ve ever coached in 17 years. (He’s got) good vision. He’s a really patient runner.”
Seth O’Neal also recorded an interception for the Olentangy defense, who held Horch to 130 yards on 13-of-21 passing.
Olentangy will travel to Worthington Kilbourne to battle for first place Thursday night.
“(Kilbourne) wants revenge, so we’ve got to be ready to go,” Solis said.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.