The Olentangy and Whitmer football teams know a thing or two about playing second-round games in Tiffin.
The two met in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, when both were Division II programs, at Frost-Kalnow Stadium — a game the Braves won 24-21 with a 52-yard field goal by Jacob Bell at the horn.
“It was a classic a couple of years ago,” Olentangy coach Mark Solis said. “I expect another close battle. Our kids, now four years in a row, understand when you make it to the round of 16, everyone is good.
“So are we … so we expect to battle the full 48 minutes. I could see a field goal being the difference in the game.”
While the showdown could end in a similar fashion, this is a different year. The teams, now both in Division I, are led by a different cast of characters and, well, even the venue is different. This time they’re playing at Tiffin Columbian. Kickoff is set for tonight at 7:30 p.m.
The Braves (8-3) got there by rallying past Dublin Coffman 28-24 in the first round. Down 10-0 at halftime, Olentangy outscored the host Shamrocks 28-14 in the second half to seal the deal.
Three the Braves’ four second-half touchdowns — two via strikes from Riley Bruening to Jace Middleton and another to Luke Riedel — came in the fourth quarter.
“(We didn’t make) a whole lot of adjustments at halftime of the Coffman game,” Solis said. “We were having execution problems in the first half and we simply challenged our kids … and they came and played much better in the second half.”
Top-seeded and unbeaten Whitmer (11-0), meanwhile, slipped past eighth-seeded Lorain 31-28 thanks to a 20-yard field goal from Eric Filby as time expired. Three of the Panthers’ four touchdowns came via fumble recoveries — they fell on their own fumbles two different times in the end zone and returned one of the Titans’ to the house for the third.
While Whitmer’s scores were of the unconventional variety last Friday night, Solis and his Braves know the Panthers have the talent to punch a few in the old-fashioned way.
“Whitmer runs the ball very well, and that will set up the play action part of their offense,” Solis said. “The QB, only a sophomore, is very good. He’s poised and has very good pocket awareness. He will challenge us … and they have a very solid offensive line.”
Whitmer quarterback Riley Keller, the cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, will look to bounce back after struggling in the first round. The sophomore, who is already drawing interest from Division I programs such as Ohio State, completed just 10 of his 27 passes for 122 yards.
Junior running back Kobe Myers, meanwhile, finished with 149 yards on 23 attempts in the win over the Titans.
As for when the Braves have the ball, well, they’ll just do what they do.
“We feel good about our offensive game plan,” Solis said. “We’ll just try to get some good one-on-one matchups.”