Liberty sets sights on regional title

By Michael Rich - [email protected]

A handful of Liberty defenders stuff Medina running back Jimmy Daw during the first half of Friday’s Division I regional final in Mansfield.

A handful of Liberty defenders stuff Medina running back Jimmy Daw during the first half of Friday’s Division I regional final in Mansfield.

The Olentangy Liberty football team has already boldly gone where no team in school history has ever been before.

But, the Patriots hope to live long and prosper with a victory over third-seeded Lorain at Mansfield Madison’s Ram Field at Star Trek, err, StarTek Stadium for a Division I regional title — which would give them the first regional championship in program history.

Entering the postseason, Liberty had just three playoff wins in school history — a number which would double with a win Friday.

Brendon White and Mitchell Okuley starred in top-seeded Liberty’s 45-27 regional semifinal victory over fifth-seeded Medina.

Okuley found White for four of his five touchdown passes and White scored his fifth touchdown on an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter.

“We give (defenses) a lot of different looks,” Patriots coach Steve Hale said. “I think it would be hard to defend some of that stuff because of all the different places that we put our athletes. Obviously, moving Brendon all over the place creates some dilemmas defensively.”

Okuley and White combined on scores of 5, 2, 20 and 11 yards in the victory and tight end Drew Rosi caught a 5-yard touchdown as well. All five came over the middle against a blitz-happy Battling Bees defense.

“Mitch did a good job of managing the game,” Hale said. “Our offensive line played well and we were able to convert. We’ve struggled to convert a little bit at times this season. So, that was really helpful.”

Liberty (12-0) has made this run without one of its top defenders in junior linebacker Edward Warinner, whose eight tackles for loss still leads the team. Warinner suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Olentangy Oct. 14.

Skylar Wahland has filled in nicely for the Patriots in Warinner’s absence, coming up big on a key fourth-down stop against Medina after the Bees recovered a fumble and had a chance to make it a one-possession game.

“He’s done a great job for us,” Hale said. “He’s taken on that role and I think he’s done an admirable job. He’s filling some pretty big shoes and has handled that for the last few weeks.”

Wahland grabbed Medina quarterback Alex Whittaker by the wrist at the line of scrimmage and held on until his teammates could finish the tackle as Whittaker was trying to scramble for a first down in a 24-14 game in the third quarter.

“The other linebackers filling in — Kyle Ackerman and John Paolo — have done a great job all year,” Hale said. “So, that’s a pretty good corps.”

Lorain (10-2) has settled undiscovered country of its own with its winningest season to date, which led to its first ever home playoff game — a 33-14 victory over Liberty’s rival Olentangy in the regional quarterfinals two weeks ago.

“They’re a little bit different than what we saw last week,” Hale said. “They possess a tremendous amount of athleticism.”

The Titans have won 10 straight since season-opening losses to Midview and Elyria, and won the Lake Erie League for the first time … and they’ve done it all with just 26 players on their roster.

How do they do it?

“We have great senior leadership,” Lorain coach David McFarland said. “We lost a couple of games early, but we have high-character kids that bought in to trying to improve every day … every practice.”

McFarland, who is in his second year, says his team boasts a 3.2 GPA, zero F’s and one D, on its first quarter academic grade evaluations.

“Every student athlete in our program understands the importance of excelling academically and that their habits in the classroom translate to practice and game habits.”

McFarland is the third coach to lead the Titans since Mark Solis, who went 7-13 in two seasons, left Lorain to take the helm at Olentangy after the 2012 season.

Carlos Chavis, who rushed for 211 yards and a score in Lorain’s 30-14 victory over Dublin Jerome in the regional semifinal, leads the Titans with 1,544 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“He’s just a good downhill runner,” Hale said. “He’s a real powerful, fast, strong, physical player.”

Chavis plays a big role on defense as well. He is third on the team in tackles (97) and has three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries at safety.

“He’s a physical kid on defense — he gets after people,” Hale said. “He’s a kid you better make sure is blocked or he’s going to put a hit on guys … he hits hard. He’s a very effective player.”

He is paired in the backfield with Aaron Huff (838 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns) for a formidable one-two punch.

Justin Stugill runs the offense at quarterback. He has thrown for 798 yards and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions.

His top targets include Desean Brooks (31 catches for 504 yards and nine touchdowns) and Zion Cross (28 catches for 438 yards and six touchdowns).

Huff and Quinton Pardon anchor the Titans’ defense. Pardon has a team-leading 110 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three forced fumbles at defensive end and Huff has 99 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery at linebacker. Linebacker Kelvin Torres leads Lorain with 5.5 sacks.

The winner advances to the state semifinal against an opponent to be determined. The pairings, which will be based on geography, were not predetermined and, along with the site, will be announced Sunday.

A handful of Liberty defenders stuff Medina running back Jimmy Daw during the first half of Friday’s Division I regional final in Mansfield. handful of Liberty defenders stuff Medina running back Jimmy Daw during the first half of Friday’s Division I regional final in Mansfield.

By Michael Rich

[email protected]

Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.

Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.