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The defense warmed to the task after a slow start, but the offense never really got on track in Olentangy’s 20-7 OCC-Cardinal Division loss to visiting Westerville Central Friday in Lewis Center.

It was a game the Braves had to have to keep their hopes of a league title and a ticket to the playoffs within reach, but, despite a handful of chances to creep back into things, turned out to be a game they just couldn’t secure.

The Warhawks (7-1, 4-1 OCC) got off to a flying start, scoring on just the second play of the game — a 37-yard pass from quarterback Cody Kondas to Channing Doerman with 11:29 left in the opening quarter. After a missed extra point, Westerville owned a 6-0 lead.

The Braves (4-4, 3-2 OCC) did some damage on their first possession, picking up a critical fourth-down conversion from their own 32-yard line, but couldn’t move the ball much after that, punting following a sack of quarterback Andrew Horstman, a short run by Joshua Perry and an incomplete pass intended for William Brett.

The two teams traded possessions before Central authored a lengthy scoring drive to make it 13-0. The ‘Hawks started the series at their own eight, getting a 36-yard run from Kondas to move the ball near midfield and a 17-yard completion to push the ball deep into Olentangy territory. The drive was later capped via a nine-yard TD run by Kondas on a third-and-six play with less than a minute left in the first quarter.

After the Braves went three and out on their ensuing possession, the Warhawks ballooned the lead to 20-0 when Jalen Liggins put a period on an efficient three-play drive with a six-yard TD run at the 8:16 mark of the second quarter.

Olentangy did next to nothing the next time with the ball, but, after being left for dead following yet another three-and-out, got a bit of life back when a Central deep man failed to handle the ensuing punt. The ball bounced through the hands of the return man and directly to Zachary Padovan, who fielded the ball in stride and returned it all the way to the Warhawk 41-yard line.

The Braves, with a renewed spirit, wasted little time making the visitors pay for their mistake. Derrick Rodgers started the drive with a short run before Horstman hit tight end Alex Shetler deep down the middle for a huge gain, setting up a first-and-goal from the five. Perry lowered his head and powered into the end zone on the next play, making it a 20-7 game following Joshua Baumbach’s PAT with 5:11 left in the first half.

Neither team managed to score the rest of the way, however, as the Olentangy defense made things tough for Central’s spread-attack offense, but its own offense couldn’t get into a rhythm, either.

The Braves looked to be in business on their first series of the second half, as a lengthy connection between Horstman and Christian Brett moved the ball to the Warhawk 25-yard line. The very next pass, though — this time a bomb intended for Will Brett — was intercepted in the end zone to end the threat.

Olentangy got the ball back when Kondas fumbled the exchange from center on the very next play — a miscue gobbled up by Buchi Okafor at the 20 — but the Braves failed to take advantage when Baumbach missed a 37-yard field goal with less than five minutes left in the third.

Horstman had some highlights in the setback, completing eight of his 17 passes for 118 yards. Rodgers was the team’s leading rusher with 41 yards in 11 carries, and Christian Brett led the receivers with three grabs for 64 yards.

Max Shawver finished as the Warhawks’ leader, collecting five receptions covering 88 yards.

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