The Olentangy Liberty High School football team has only one loss and has reeled off five consecutive victories, but if the playoffs started today the Patriots would be on the outside looking in.
Despite being 6-1 overall, Liberty is 12th in the Division I, Region 3 computer ratings and only the top eight teams in each region qualify for the postseason. The reason that the Patriots are the only team in their region with six victories that isn't in the top eight is their strength of schedule, as all of their wins have come against opponents with losing records.
"We're just happy to be where we are right now," said coach Steve Hale, whose team has missed the playoffs the past two seasons after making six consecutive postseason appearances from 2004-09. "Each week we talk about controlling our own destiny. As long as we take care of business, it should all work out."
That task becomes much more challenging over the next two weeks, as Liberty faces Hilliard Davidson on Thursday, Oct. 11, at home in a contest being televised on WWHO and plays host to Dublin Coffman on Oct. 19.
Davidson is 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Central Division and has won its last three games, including a 42-14 rout of Upper Arlington on Oct. 5. Coffman, which has won its last four meetings against the Patriots, is first in the region and is 7-0 and 4-0 heading into its game against Westland on Friday, Oct. 12.
Wins over both Davidson and Coffman almost assuredly would secure a playoff spot for the Patriots, who are 4-0 in the OCC-Central.
"Our practices have been more focused than they've ever been," senior linebacker Grant Cartwright said. "We know against Davidson it's all going to start up front with our (defensive) line. They do their job and we can take care of the rest."
The contest marks the first meeting between Liberty and Davidson, but the Patriots know what to expect from the Wildcats, who employ an option offense and rarely pass.
Senior running back E.J. Jennings, who missed most of last season with a broken ankle, rushed for 316 yards and six touchdowns on 36 carries against UA and, for the season, has 883 yards and 14 touchdowns on 149 carries.
Davidson rushed for 365 yards against the Golden Bears.
"They just run everything to perfection," Cartwright said of the Wildcats. "If they get three or more yards on a play, that's a win for them. We have to take the life out of them before they take the life out of us."
Liberty has had troubled stopping the run at times this season. In a 28-16 loss to Olentangy on Aug. 31, Braves quarterback Andrew Horstman rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Then, in a 37-21 win over UA on Sept. 22, Bears running back Gus Ackley ran for 192 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
"This will be considerably different," Hale said. "We obviously have to remain focused on stopping the run. We just have to look in our playbook and apply it to what they do. They try to get you frustrated and then their (running) backs can get a big gain."
Meanwhile, the Patriots, who employ a no-huddle spread, have become more-balanced on offense this season, as running back Daryian Davies has rushed for 579 yards and nine touchdowns on 104 carries.
Davies was one of seven Liberty players who combined to run for 248 yards in a 63-7 win at Westland on Oct. 5.
Quarterback Joey Longhino completed 12 of 15 passes for 176 yards and four touchdowns against Westland and, for the season, is 110-for-149 passing for 1,691 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
His primary targets are wide receivers Dan Rhinehart (24 catches, 437 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Bryson Wray (22 catches, 346 yards, 3 touchdowns).