By Michael Rich
Mark Solis gave his Olentangy football team the “survive and advance” speech after its 31-21 win over visiting Elyria in the first round of the Division I, Region 1 playoffs Saturday in Lewis Center.
“I told our kids that I didn’t think we matched their sense of urgency,” Solis said. “We got hit in the mouth and that was kind of good for us. I’m not taking anything away from (Elyria), but we are a much better football team than what we showed.”
There was an exception to the sluggish showing, though: receiver Jake O’Donnell. He caught four touchdown passes from Deeb Haber and finished with 248 yards receiving to help Olentangy advance.
“It honestly comes down to coaching,” O’Donnell said. “(They identified) where the open spots were and gave us a great game plan. It’s just my job to get to my spot and Deeb gives me a great ball every time.”
O’Donnell caught touchdown passes of 32, 61, 12 and 41 from Haber to account for all four touchdowns, including three in the second half.
“We felt like there were some things we could do in the passing game and we did that,” Solis said. “We saw some things on film — that’s why we watch film. We thought we could lift the top on the defense and we did that.”
Solis felt Elyria won the battle up front, which bared out statistically as the Pioneers rushed for 189 yards while holding the Braves to just 54.
“We need to do a much better job of running the football,” Solis said. “They kicked our tails a little bit up front.”
Olentangy never trailed, but couldn’t put significant distance between itself and visiting Elyria, which used a rushing attack led by quarterback Dontae Beckett and running backs Chris Atkinson and Mikah Price. The trio rushed for more than 55 yards apiece.
“(The final score) is a credit to them,” O’Donnell said. “They played really hard and did some things that we weren’t expecting. My hat’s off to them.”
Atkinson led with 69 yards, Beckett had 65 and a touchdown and Price finished with 59, which included a 21-yard touchdown in the first quarter that tied the game.
Jacob Bell kicked a 34-yard field goal to give Olentangy the lead for good with 10:31 left in the second quarter — a 10-7 edge which held up until halftime. Haber found O’Donnell three plays earlier for a 62-yard catch and run to the Elyria 17 to set it up.
Haber had his choice of Obi Anunike, who was running free down the left sideline, and O’Donnell, who was open cutting across the middle on a 3rd-and-11 play from Olentangy’s own 41-yard line. He chose O’Donnell, who made the catch around the Elyria 30 and ran free for his second touchdown of the game to increase the lead to 17-7 with 8:19 left in the third quarter.
“I’ve been playing with Obi since elementary school,” O’Donnell said. “I think we complement each other. He creates voids in the coverage where I can fill. We really work well with each other and it helps the offense.”
After Olentangy forced a turnover on downs at midfield, Haber found O’Donnell alone in the back of the end zone from 12 yards out to increase the lead to 24-7 with five minutes left in the third.
Shamir Lucky sparked the Pioneers by recovering a fumble at the Elyria 12. He returned it to the 44 and Beckett found receiver Kyle Ringer on a short pass that he turned into a 56-yard touchdown on the next play.
Eight plays later, Olentangy was back in the end zone. Haber faked a jet sweep to Anunike and found O’Donnell open over the top from 41 yards out for the Braves’ final touchdown with 10:27 left in the game.
“He’s a guy, who’s been our leading receiver all year,” Solis said. “Not too many guys have had the production that he’s had all year. He’s our guy that can stretch defenses vertically. He was able to do that.”
Haber finished 20-for-34 for 343 yards and four touchdowns.
Elyria responded with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run by Beckett. Ringer made a one-handed catch for 22 yards on 3rd-and-13 from the 25 to set up the touchdown.
Ringer led the Pioneers with 147 yards receiving on eight catches and a touchdown. Beckett went 12-for-22 for 195 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
O’Donnell opened the scoring with a 32-yard reception on Olentangy’s second possession. He set up the touchdown with a 28-yard catch on the previous play.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.