J.D. Dayhuff found Sam Almond over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown with 2:16 left to send the Olentangy Orange football team to its first victory over rival Olentangy since 2009 – a 17-14 OCC-Buckeye Division win Friday night in Lewis Center.
“This was probably one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in – it was so fun,” Dayhuff said. “It’s a huge rivalry – everybody was talking this week on Twitter. It was good that Orange is back again … we’re not the old Orange.”
Almond, Orange’s leading receiver this season, had been held without a catch until the final drive when Dayhuff hit him on a 6-yard pass on the right sideline on a third-and-5 to keep the winning drive alive.
“He’s one of my good friends and I work with him a lot in the offseason,” Dayhuff said. “I know where he’s going to be and we have a lot of chemistry.”
Despite having one more loss coming in, Orange was ahead of Olentangy in the Division I, Region 2 computer rankings by 0.1833 points.
“I didn’t expect it, but hopefully this game shows that we should be,” Dayhuff said.
The win gives Pioneers coach Zebb Schroeder his first over a district rival in seven tries. Orange has to wait a couple of weeks for a try at Olentangy Liberty.
“I couldn’t be any more happy for our kids and our assistant coaches and just anybody who’s been involved over the last couple of years getting our program established,” he said. “This is a game changer for us – beating such a quality team.”
The Orange defense was tough throughout, forcing three-and-outs on Olentangy’s first three possessions of the second half and another one in the third quarter.
“I thought they played with a little more will and determination than we did,” Olentangy coach Mark Solis said. “That’s my fault … I’ve gotta do a better job of getting our kids ready, I guess.”
Olentangy was finally able to pick up a first down when Connor Haag completed to Sam Durst for 13 yards on the final play of the period.
Haag capped the 13-play, 81-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak to give Olentangy a 14-10 lead with 8:39 left in the fourth.
“We knew they were going to be tough … they made a few more plays than we did and my hat’s off to them and Zebb and that’s a big win for their program,” Solis said. “I told our kids all week that we were a benchmark game for them. We’ve been up there where they want to be.”
The Pioneers’ defense held the normally stout Olentangy offense to 210 yards of total offense led by Jimmy Sensibaugh’s 5.5 tackles. Steven Collins had five tackles and a fumble recovery.
“Our guys prepped like champions this week,” Schroeder said. “Our defense was lights out. Olentangy’s offense is a handful to prepare for. They give a lot of different looks and motions and tempos – our defense prepared like you wouldn’t believe.”
Olentangy was held to 2-for-14 on third down and 87 yards rushing, led by Ali Iverson’s 31.
“I’m proud of our effort – I’m not pleased with our execution,” Solis said. “We left too many plays out there – especially on offense. We didn’t play well offensively … we’ve got to watch the tape and get better.”
Orange (5-2, 2-0) was able to move the ball efficiently for much of the first half. Joe Metcalf capped a 13-play, 48-yard drive with a 33-yard field goal to give the Pioneers a 3-0 lead with 3:50 left in the first quarter.
Both teams turned the ball over in the red zone in the first half.
Dayhuff and Jack Neer combined on a 58-yard completion down to the Olentangy 10, but Dayhuff was intercepted by Deonta Mack in the end zone two plays later.
Braxtyn Baldwin came off the edge to get a piece of Joe Metcalf’s punt midway through the second quarter. The punt went 8 yards and landed out of bounds at the 44.
It was Olentangy’s first trip into Orange territory and, four plays later, Collins recovered a fumble at the Olentangy 17 after a 10-yard completion from Haag to Caden Kaiser. Kaiser led Olentangy with 41 yards on three catches.
“I’m just so happy for Coach (Matt) Berndt, our defensive coordinator and the kids on that side. Our defense just keeps improving and putting us in positions to win the ballgame,” Schroeder said.
Dayhuff connected with Zach Harrison on a 42-yard pass play to get Orange into Olentangy territory on the first play of the series and then scrambled 20 yards to pick up a first down on third-and-17.
But a pair of penalties stalled the drive and Metcalf’s 6-yard punt set up Olentangy’s first scoring drive.
Durst scored from 7 yards out after Haag and Luke Riedel hooked up on a 36-yard pass play to set it up. Olentangy led 7-3 at the half.
Jayden Rodgers took the ball right and cut it up field for a 45-yard touchdown with 9:50 left in the third quarter after the teams exchanged punts. Rodgers had 79 yards rushing on just four carries to lead the Pioneers.
Orange was driving later in the quarter when Jacob Slade strip-sacked Dayhuff and Justin Stewart recovered for Olentangy. It was the Pioneers’ second turnover in Olentangy territory.
Brayden Chitty led Olentangy (5-2, 1-1) with nine tackles and Slade had a pair of sacks.
Both teams continue OCC-Buckeye play next week. Olentangy travels to district-rival Olentangy Liberty and Orange heads to Westerville Central. Kickoff for both matchups is set for 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.