The Olentangy Liberty football team ran the entire spectrum from simple to all-out wild in a 33-28 thriller at Pickerington North to wrap up a difficult non-league schedule undefeated.
“The bucket’s empty,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “We knew we had to find ways to put (North) on their heels because they are very, very talented.”
The wildest play was a 32-yard hook-and-ladder touchdown that put the Patriots on top with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter.
“We heard that they really cheat over on the run, so they don’t have anyone back,” Liberty receiver Johnny Wiseman said. “So, Coach Hale put in that play earlier in the week, knowing it would succeed … and it was a good call.”
Liberty faced fourth-and-18 after Morgan Conkel and Brady Toth combined to sack sophomore quarterback Mitchell Okuley on the previous play.
Okuley found Will Fowler at the 15, who tossed it to Wiseman and won the race to the goal line on the right side.
“They were going to be sitting on top of everything else,” Hale said. “They were playing a lot of man and that play works against man … it just happened to work perfect. We just practiced it … and luckily we practiced it just enough.”
Wiseman and Fowler connected with some trickery earlier in the game when Fowler converted a fake punt on fourth-and-2 that was so close it was confirmed by the chain gang. Fowler also had an interception in the game.
Later in the drive, Wiseman took a handoff from running back Matthew Webb on a reverse and went right sideline to left sideline and down the field for a 50-yard touchdown.
“Right when I saw that open field, I just ran as fast as I could,” Wiseman said. “The O-line did an excellent job of picking up the blocks on the outside and I just read them … it was a good call.”
Wiseman also had a 20-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that was set up by his own 29-yard punt return.
“We trust our running back (Webb) and our O-line did an excellent job,” Wiseman said. “The play-calling was excellent – that’s what won us the game.”
Liberty had success keeping it simple, especially on its first drive of the second half when Webb accounted for all 66 yards on the series, which ended in a 22-yard A.J. Smith field goal to give the Patriots a 24-21 lead.
“Webb’s been a workhorse for us in all five games and he just grinds,” Hale said. “He takes a beating … he comes out of the game pretty beat up because of the way we run off-tackle. He’s just done a wonderful job for us.”
Drew Rosi recovered a fumble on North’s first play from scrimmage on the ensuing series, which led to a 25-yard field goal by Smith.
“We didn’t get frustrated,” Hale said. “Obviously, we want seven points down there, but we weren’t going to hand it to them. Every time down there, we were going to try to score points.”
Que Davis recovered a fumble at the Liberty 15 to set up Noah Owens’ 1-yard run to put the Panthers up 28-27 with 3:08 left in the period.
But not all trick plays worked for Liberty. Wiseman took a handoff from Okuley and tried to throw it back to him, but the throw was late and Nick Gardina picked it off at the North 5 and returned it 40 yards.
“Johnny made a mistake on that one, but it was something we hadn’t told him and things fell apart early in that play and that was my fault as a coach,” Hale said.
Kendall Marcum missed a 43-yard field goal to the left. North quarterback Jimmy Weirick had a 7-yard touchdown run called back because of a hold. It was the second time that Weirick had a touchdown run negated by a penalty.
Weirick threw touchdown passes of 17 yards to Ty Wiley and 37 yards to Connor Gessells and scrambled for a 26-yard touchdown in the first half to lead the Panthers (4-1).
Weirick finished 23-for-43 for 301 yards and an interception. Gessells finished with 129 yards on eight catches and Ty Carter also had eight catches and finished with 104 yards.
“Our defense and our secondary just kept fighting through – nobody was perfect at all,” linebacker Edward Warinner said. “I think these first five weeks prove that we’re resilient. The guys in the secondary just kept fighting — our D-line and myself – we did a better job of containing Jimmy in the second half and it worked out well.”
Okuley, who started in place of Brendon White at quarterback, showed why Hale thinks he’s “one of the best quarterbacks in Central Ohio,” on the game-winning touchdown drive.
Okuley completed passes to Ben Rinsma (22 yards) and Grant Wilson (33 yards) on the march.
“I think over the next three years people are going to know him quite well,” Hale said. “He’s special … he’s a hidden gem in Central Ohio and he’s great-enough of a kid that he doesn’t care that the kid going to Ohio State is starting in front of him. He’s willing to be a team player.”
White came in with an ankle injury and played the first series on defense, but Hale didn’t want to risk further injury on the natural grass surface at North.
“His ankle’s sore,” Hale said. “We are always going to choose what’s in the best interest of the kid and it wasn’t in his best interest to be on this grass field trying to cut on an ankle that’s not 100 percent. So, hopefully next week, we’ll have him at about 90 (percent) – that’s what our trainer predicted. If that’s the case, he’ll be right back in there doing the amazing things he does.”
Next up, Liberty hosts Westerville Central to open the OCC-Buckeye schedule.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.