Olentangy Liberty High School football coach Steve Hale missed punter Will Fowler’s biggest moment in the Patriots’ 31-0 rout of rival Olentangy Friday. Facing a fourth and 12 on the Liberty 36, Fowler went through the motions of his traditional rugby style punt, but instead decided to tuck the ball and run.
Fowler broke free on a 24-yard run to pick up the first down to keep alive a drive that led to Liberty’s second touchdown of the first quarter.
“I didn’t even see it. I had turned around to talk to someone and the next thing you know, the offense is back on the field,” said Hale, whose team improved to 8-0 overall with the win. “It’s one of those things that we practice. I give those guys free reign to call them when they want. If it’s there, he goes for it. If it isn’t, he just punts it away.”
“I’m just reading the defense,” Fowler said. “If I see the hole, I take it. I think it was the biggest turning point. It gave us a lot of energy and confidence after the defense had given us another stop.”
The fake punt was one of two fourth downs the Patriots converted on the way to their second touchdown. Later in that drive, Olentangy had the Patriots trapped in a fourth and 17 at the Olentangy 32, but back-up quarterback Mitchell Okuley hit Trey Stablein for a 31-yard pick up. Fullback Matt Webb, who led all rushers with 73 yards on 16 carries, plowed over from a yard out on the next play to make it 14-0. Kicker A.J. Smith added a 27-yard field goal with 4:47 left in the second quarter to give Liberty a 17-0 lead.
Special teams helped Liberty build a big halftime edge. On the opening kickoff, Patriots defensive lineman Michael Bass scooped up a Braves fumble at the Olentangy 11. Two plays later, quarterback Brendon White hit tight end Jacob Sincek for an 8-yard touchdown just 39 seconds into the game.
“We started off the game really well,” Hale said. “Getting that turnover right away and then putting points on the board was huge. It’s hard to script it any better than that.”
Recovering from a sprained ankle, White led the Patriots to touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half. White, who completed four of 11 passes for 51 yards and rushed for another 28 yards on 12 carries, scored on a 10-yard touchdown run with 10:46 left in the third quarter. Two plays after the Patriots’ Kyle Akerman recovered another Braves turnover at the Olentangy 12, White scored on a 2-yard run to make it 31-0 with 9:49 remaining.
“This means a lot,” White said. “This is a rivalry game and we came out and showed who we are. We sent a message to them. Usually teams play well in the first half and then they lose a little bit of energy in the second half. Our motto is the second half is going to be even better than the first half. We came out and scored and the defense made great stops.”
Defensively, the Patriots handled the dual quarterback threat of Connor Haag and Sam Durst. Liberty sacked Haag five times and limited Olentangy to just 86 yards of total offense.
Olentangy coach Mark Solis, whose team falls to 5-3 overall with the loss, was impressed with the Patriots defense.
“I don’t know what to say. They’re a really good football team,” Solis said. “Their defense is as good as I’ve seen in a long time. We’re not where they are at right now.”
With the victory, the Patriots, ranked third in the Division I state poll and first in the Division I Region 2 computer rankings, cleared a major hurdle. Since 2010, Olentangy appeared to have Liberty’s number, winning five out of the last six games. However, the Patriots now have won the last two games, including a 24-21 decision last year.