Having opened the season with a three-point win, then increasing its margin of victory every game for the next five weeks, the Olentangy High School football team headed into a televised game Oct. 4 at New Albany eager to prove that its 6-0 record meant it should be considered one of the area's elite teams.
The Braves struggled that night, falling behind by 33 points before losing 33-14 to the Eagles in an OCC-Capital Division contest. Nonetheless, they finished as one of the more discussed teams in central Ohio this fall.
Olentangy finished 10-2 overall, losing 29-14 to Hilliard Davidson in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal Nov. 10 at Upper Arlington. The Braves were seeded third in the region and the Wildcats were the seventh seed.
Davidson, which improved to 10-2 and advanced to play fourth-seeded Pickerington North in the regional final Saturday, Nov. 17, at Ohio Wesleyan University, rushed for 321 yards on 53 carries but didn't take control of the contest until the fourth quarter.
Running back E.J. Jennings scored on a 7-yard run with 7 minutes, 16 seconds to play to put the Wildcats ahead 14-7 and 58 seconds later Davidson's Nick Stull returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion made it 22-7.
"I have to give a lot of credit to our guys for everything they did," Braves coach Ed Terwilliger said. "I like the way we didn't quit. We gave them that extra score when we dropped the football on the ground. That was tough because not only do you have to score again, but then you have to stop them."
Senior quarterback Andrew Horstman connected with junior wide receiver Victor Elmurr on a 63-yard touchdown pass to cut the Braves' deficit to 22-14 with 5:59 left. Davidson, however, sealed the win when Jennings scored on a 22-yard run with 1:41 remaining.
Horstman, who had scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter to tie the game at 7, was 8-for-19 passing for 123 yards.
"It was a real physical game and things weren't always working for us, but we knew if we stuck to it, it would pay off eventually," said Davidson quarterback Nick Waters, crediting Olentangy's defense.
Making its first postseason appearance since 2008, Olentangy opened the playoffs with a 21-17 win over sixth-seeded Dublin Scioto on Nov. 3 at home.
The Braves needed last-second heroics to edge the Irish for their first playoff victory in 13 years. On fourth-and-goal from the Olentangy 18-yard line, Scioto wide receiver Mason Matheny caught a pass from quarterback Evan DeMars and was tackled by senior defensive back Ramal Iverson inside the 1 with 12 seconds remaining.
The victory was the Braves' first in the playoffs in Division I. Its other two postseason wins came in Division II in 1999. That season, Olentangy defeated Brookhaven 21-20 in the opening round and Independence 35-21 in a regional semifinal before losing to Uniontown Lake 42-14 in a regional final.
The Braves allowed an average of 18.8 points in their first four games -- wins over Worthington Kilbourne (17-14 on Aug. 24), Olentangy Liberty (28-16 on Aug. 31), Lexington (35-21 on Sept. 7) and Big Walnut (40-24 on Sept. 14) -- but their defense stiffened and gave up an average of 9.6 points over their next seven games.
Aside from the loss to New Albany, Olentangy was stout defensively in wins over Olentangy Orange (28-3 on Sept. 22), Franklin Heights (55-7 on Sept. 28), Watkins Memorial (42-0 on Oct. 12), Mount Vernon (23-7 on Oct. 19) and Delaware (42-10 on Oct. 26).
The Braves went 6-1 in the OCC-Capital to place second, behind New Albany (7-0) and ahead of Big Walnut (4-3), Orange (4-3), Mount Vernon (3-4), Delaware (2-5), Watkins Memorial (2-5) and Franklin Heights (0-7).
Horstman finished 88-for-171 passing for 1,469 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions and rushed for 988 yards and 18 touchdowns on 135 carries. He also handled the punting duties, averaging 40 yards per punt.
Horstman was named first-team all-league and, as a punter, first-team all-district.
Junior running back Hayden Hunter rushed for 451 yards and four touchdowns and Iverson, who also saw time at running back, had 432 yards and three scores. Iverson was second-team all-league.
Senior Christian Brett was the Braves' top wide receiver, catching a team-high 38 passes for 736 yards and four touchdowns, and had 60 tackles and an interception as a cornerback. He was first-team all-league and second-team all-district on defense.
Olentangy loses 18 seniors, including 6-foot-6, 264-pound two-way lineman Austin Schmidt, a University of Illinois recruit who made first-team all-league and all-district on offense, and defensive back Griffin Binkley, who had 113 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception during the regular season and was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Senior Buchi Okafor (WR/DB) and junior Andy Simms (OL/DL) also were named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Others who made second-team all-league were seniors Luke Hartline (FB/LB) and Brian Raiff (OL/DL) and junior Kevin Sherry (TE/LB).
Seniors Zach Ries (RB/LB) and Michael Watkins (OL/DL) were special mention all-league and senior Francis Ramadhani (RB/DB) was honorable mention all-league.
Among the key players expected to return are Elmurr, Hunter, Sherry, Simms, juniors Anthony Allocco (WR/DB), Josh Baumbach (K) and Tim Feasel (RB/LB) and sophomore Connor Brett (WR/LB).
Baumbach made honorable mention all-district.