By Michael Rich
There may be some lingering feelings about the way things ended last season when the Olentangy football team dropped a 48-13 state-semifinal decision to eventual Division II champion Cincinnati LaSalle.
“They felt like last year, they came up a little short,” Braves coach Mark Solis said. “Our kids are resilient and really want to prove people wrong, and we feel like we’re as good as anybody in the state of Ohio in Division I. We put ourselves in a position to prove that, we’ve just got to take it a week at a time.
“We’re not happy just to be in, we’re not going to be happy just to win a game or two, we want to win the whole damn thing, period.”
Taking it a week at a time starts with Elyria in the first round of the playoffs Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Lewis Center.
Olentangy, the third seed in the Region 1 bracket, is getting back a key piece of its offense that accumulated 4,415 yards this season. Junior running back Cam Kennedy, who missed the last two games with an injured ankle, has practiced all week and should be “pretty close to 100 percent,” Solis said.
Kennedy injured his ankle in the first quarter of the Kilbourne game — a game that he played from start to finish. It wasn’t the first time he played through the pain this season.
“He’s a tough son of a gun,” Solis said. “He played with a dislocated finger that he got in the Orange game that was actually a compound dislocation. The dislocation broke the skin and so the doctor put it back in and we stitched — he had nine stitches — at halftime and played the rest of the game against Orange. So, he’s a tough cookie. He’s one of the toughest running backs that I’ve ever coached … just tough. I like that … I’ll go to war with those guys.”
Solis has been using a combination of Ali Iverson, Seth O’Neal and Jimmy Elmurr in Kennedy’s absence. O’Neal’s increased time on offense has opened the door on the defensive side of the ball for junior Kyler Severance.
“We’ve developed some good depth on the back end there — Kyler Severance and Deonta Mack are a (couple) of guys that we feel real good (about) at corner,” Solis said. “So when Seth needs a breather, we can get Kyler in there. Kyler’s played a lot of good, quality football snaps for our defense this year.”
The defense has been particularly stout since the second half of the New Albany game. It has given up just one touchdown and held opponents to 197 yards of total offense over the last three games.
“It helps to have a Chris Crumb and Jimmy Elmurr and Alex Draime,” Solis said. “Those three guys have really taken on those leadership roles and elevated their games, and I think that’s really spread to the team, or at least the rest of the defensive unit.”
It didn’t look like Elyria (6-4) was going to make the playoffs, but a pair of three-point wins in the last two weeks over Strongsville and eighth-seeded Mentor sealed its spot.
The Pioneers are a run-first team led by backs Chris Atkinson, who rushed for 1,228 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, and Mikah Price, who had 663 yards on the ground with three touchdowns.
Quarterback Dontae Beckett adds another weapon to the running game. He’s added 567 yards yards and six touchdowns.
Elyria, the 14 seed, has had trouble keeping grasp of the ball. The Pioneers have fumbled 34 times this season, losing 15 of them, something that Solis thinks plays to a strength of his defense.
“We’re plus-11 in our turnover ratio this year,” he said. “That’s indicative of a good football team. We like to think that we can continue to do that this week. I hope that we can create some of those fumbles with physical play.”
The winner will face the winner of Toledo Whitmer and Canton McKinley.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.