Nothing comes easy in rivalry games like the ones authored by Olentangy and Liberty over the years … nothing.
The Braves, owners of a 13-0 halftime lead, looked to be in cruise control early in Friday’s OCC-Cardinal Division clash against the visiting Patriots, but the tide turned in the second half as Olentangy had to make a goal-line stand in the game’s final minute to escape with a 13-7 win.
“Our defense was outstanding … that was the difference,” Braves coach Ed Terwilliger said. “They did a great job executing the gameplan. (Liberty coach) Steve (Hale) made adjustments after we shut them down early on, but, as far as being prepared, the ‘D’ did a great job.”
After getting the ball at their own 36 with 2:15 to go, down six, the Patriots (2-4, 1-2 OCC Cardinal) moved the ball deep into Braves (3-3, 2-1 OCC Cardinal) territory with a short scramble by quarterback Joey Longhino and a 31-yard completion to Bryson Wray. Liberty used its screen game to set up the late drama after that, slipping a short pass to A.J. Motika, who hurdled Olentangy defenders all the way to the three-yard line.
The Braves bowed up when they needed to, though. Will Brett knocked away a fade intended for Wray on first down, a holding call (on a play Longhino looked to cross the goal line with a keeper) moved the ball to the 13 and Olentangy’s secondary forced three straight incompletions to seal the deal, including a fourth-and-goal play when a pressured Longhino fired a pass off his back leg that didn’t quite reach his target.
“They are so dangerous with that slip screen,” Terwilliger said. “But we made plays when we needed to, and did what we needed to do to win, which was keep the ball away from them most of the night. To hold these guys to one score is excellent.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for Steve and his group,” the coach added. “They always do a great job of getting ready to battle us, and tonight was no exception.”
Olentangy put its imprint all over the game’s early stages. After getting the ball at the Liberty 36 when Brett intercepted a Longhino pass on Liberty’s first possession, three straight runs, two by Joshua Perry and another by Derrick Rodgers, pushed the ball just inside the red zone. A short run by Matthew Winings and another by Perry moved the chains again and, one a first-and-goal play from the six, Perry powered in for a six-yard touchdown run to put his Braves up. The ensuing extra point was spoiled by a bad snap, but Olentangy still led, 6-0, with 6:10 to go in the first quarter.
After trading possessions until late in the second, the Braves found the end zone again, again with Perry, who scored on a run from seven yards out with 5:15 to go in the half. Joshua Baumbach added the PAT and Olentangy was up 13-0 — a lead they brought into the break.
The Braves possessed the ball for virtually the entire third quarter, throwing run after run from Rodgers and Perry right at the Patriot front, but couldn’t score.
Liberty, however, needed next to no time at all to get the spark it needed to sway the momentum over to its sideline for the first time all night.
After forcing a Perry fumbled early in the fourth, Motika scooped up the ball and rolled all the way to the Braves’ 18-yard line. A short keeper from Longhino moved the ball a bit closer before a 12-yard screen to Motika crossed the goal line with 9:31 to go in the game. Sam Vucelich added the PAT to make it a 13-7 contest.
Liberty’s Tyler Welch blocked Olentangy’s punt on the Braves’ ensuing possession, giving his team the ball in Olentangy territory, but, after failing to move the ball, the Patriot defense had to make another stop before setting up the final drive that kept the fans on their seats until the very end.
Olentangy dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 33:36 compared to Liberty’s 14:24. The Braves, who didn’t manage a single passing yard, outgained the Patriots 227-136 while picking up 17 first downs compared to their opponents’ eight. Olentangy ran 22 more plays than Liberty in the win.
Offensive standouts included Perry, who had 85 yards on 25 carries to go with his two touchdowns, and Rodgers, who had 89 yards on 23 carries.
Myles Robinson led Liberty with 43 yards on eight carries while Longhino completed 10 of his 21 passes for 81 yards — five completions to Motika for 39 yards and three to Wray for 41.