Ground game gives Liberty 'different dimension'
Most high school football coaches strive for their teams to be equally effective at running and passing the ball, but often their offenses aren't balanced on a consistent basis as much as they would like.
That's why Olentangy Liberty coach Steve Hale hasn't been too troubled by the fact that his offense has relied heavily on the left arm of quarterback Joey Longhino the last two seasons. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior threw for 1,881 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season and has completed 86 of 123 passes for 1,252 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions so far this year.
Longhino had a strong performance in a 37-21 win over visiting Upper Arlington in an OCC-Central Division game that concluded Sept. 22 after being suspended because of lightning the night before with the Patriots leading 24-21 at halftime, completing 13 of 19 passes for 121 yards.
However, the Patriots also ran the ball effectively out of their no-huddle offense, as Longhino rushed for 145 yards on 18 carries and junior running back Daryian Davies ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
"I think when you talk about Liberty, everybody talks passing, passing, passing," said Hale, whose team is 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Central entering its home game against Marysville on Friday, Sept. 28. "I was really pleased that we were able to establish some sort of running game. It's a different dimension for us. It gives (opponents) something else to prepare for when they're getting ready for us."
The Patriots' running game has been slowed by injuries the last two seasons. Davies (5-7, 150) was sidelined for the final seven games last season because of a fractured foot, and he and senior Austin Mullins, who also starts in the secondary, have missed games this season.
In a 28-16 loss to Olentangy on Aug. 31, Liberty was down to sophomore running back Jacob Wiseman in the backfield.
"I don't think we've ever run the ball that much," Davies said. "I was really surprised (against UA). In the first half of the game, I only had six carries. I was a little bit disappointed, but I know the running game is there and we just have to give it time."
Davies ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the second half against UA, as Liberty outscored the Bears 13-0 in the final two quarters. He has rushed for 401 yards and seven touchdowns on 60 carries (a 6.7-yard average) for the season and has caught 12 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
"We go into each game looking at what the defense is giving us and what's the easiest way to pick up yards," Davies said.
"If they decide they're going to defend Joey and leave us with a situation where we should run the ball and don't, we're foolish."
Liberty is averaging 37.5 points, and the loss to Olentangy marked the only time this season that it has scored fewer than 35 points.
The Patriots have five players with more than 100 yards receiving, including wide receivers Bryson Wray (20 catches, 307 yards, 1 touchdown) and Dan Rhinehart (16 catches, 283 yards, 1 touchdown).
Hale also gives credit to what he believes is likely the best offensive line he has coached during his 10 seasons leading the Patriots.
Starting up front have been senior Chad Pickelheimer (6-0, 220), juniors Luke Callahan (6-4, 265), Eric Lorenzen (6-3, 235) and David Trzcinski (6-2, 250) and sophomore Hunter Littlejohn (6-4, 250).
"I give them all the credit," Davies said. "They've been firing off the ball great and I wouldn't be able to run without them."