Zach Slade is normally known for his solid defense.
But he scored three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 1:02 left to give Olentangy a 28-21 win at Westerville Central in OCC-Buckeye action Friday night.
“I get nervous every time I go on offense,” Slade said. “I’m not used to running back – defensive end and running back are two different positions. At the end of the day, it’s fun.”
Olentangy (7-3, 3-2) overcame three turnovers, including two in the second half that allowed the Warhawks back into it after it built a 21-0 halftime lead.
Slade had a key 15-yard reception on third down to keep the game-winning drive alive and followed it with a 23-yard run on the next play.
“I sensed that (Central was) tired,” Olentangy coach Mark Solis said. “Because they were blitzing so much, they were expending a lot of energy. Frankly, the guys up front – the offensive line – paved the way for us.”
Olentangy needed a 24-yard pass from Connor Haag to Sam Durst to convert a fourth and seven and set up Slade’s go-ahead 6-yard touchdown run two plays later.
“I just felt like I could beat that corner … if the throw was there – I felt like I could beat that corner,” Durst said.
Olentangy got much-needed solid rushing performances out of Slade and Durst. Ali Iverson, the team’s leading rusher, did not play because he’s battling mononucleosis.
“We have enough depth and we didn’t panic … we didn’t change the game plan and the kids executed,” Solis said.
Durst rushed for 122 yards on nine carries and Slade finished with 61 yards on eight carries to go with his three scores.
Olentangy drove six plays for 44 yards on its second possession of the game and Slade scored from a yard out for a 7-0 lead with 4:43 left in the opening frame.
Haag, who was intercepted in the end zone by Colin Robertson on Olentangy’s first possession, found his stride. He completed consecutive passes of 15 to Durst and 13 to Luke Riedel to set up the touchdown.
Haag completed a key third down pass to Caden Kaiser for 15 yards and found Ian Drummond for 15 more on the final play of the first quarter.
Kaiser caught a short pass on the right side and went 28 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to push the lead to 14-0 with 10:18 left in the half.
Durst found success running the ball from the quarterback position, particularly on the first play of drives.
He ran 55 yards on Olentangy’s first play after Deonta Mack intercepted Central quarterback Isaiah Healy in the end zone. But, the drive stalled and Olentangy had to rely on field position.
Olentangy got the ball back in Central territory after a three-and-out and Durst went 31 yards on the first play to setup Slade’s 4-yard touchdown to push the lead to 21-0 with 3:07 left in the half.
Braxtyn Baldwin pulled down an interception at Central’s 15 just before the end of the half to keep the Warhawks off the board.
The Warhawks took advantage of Olentangy’s turnovers in the second half.
Durst bobbled a Robertson punt that was recovered by Logan Clapham at Olentangy’s 28.
“We don’t muff that punt – we go down and make it 28-0 and this game is over,” Solis said.
Allen Smith ran 15 yards on the first play before scoring from 13 yards out on the next play to get Central on the board with 5:36 left in the third quarter.
Winston Milton intercepted Haag on the next possession, which turned into a 27-yard touchdown from Isaiah Healy to Robertson to give Central (4-6, 3-2) its second touchdown in a minute and 12 seconds.
“That was an ill-advised throw and you could feel the momentum swinging,” Solis said.
Robertson turned a Healy pass into a 63-yard gain on the Warhawks’ next possession, but he coughed it up at Olentangy’s 10 and Max Hall recovered.
Central was able to tie it up on the next possession after Smith’s 24-yard run set up another Healy-to-Robertson touchdown – this time from 9 yards out on a wheel route to the left corner.
“The key was we didn’t panic – we stuck to the game plan and the kids executed,” Solis said.
Smith led Central with 115 yards rushing on 15 carries.
The win clinches Olentangy’s third straight playoff appearance and, likely, a trip to Lorain as the sixth seed in the first round Friday night according to joeeitel.com.
“I’d love to play Lorain … that would be a great matchup for us,” Solis said.
If that’s the case, it’ll be the second year in a row that Solis has faced a former employer. Olentangy defeated Elyria 31-21 in the first round of last year’s postseason.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.