Liberty disappointed despite winning year
The Olentangy Liberty High School football team finished with a winning record for the ninth consecutive season.
Yet, the fact that the Patriots fell short in their quest to win a league title and return to the postseason doesn't sit well with coach Steve Hale, who has led the program since its inaugural season in 2003.
Liberty finished 7-3 overall and went 5-2 in its first season in the OCC-Central Division to tie Upper Arlington for third, behind co-champions Dublin Coffman (6-1) and Hilliard Davidson (6-1) and ahead of Marysville (3-4), Thomas Worthington (2-5), Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).
The Patriots missed the playoffs for the third season in a row, finishing 13th in the Division I, Region 3 computer ratings as the top eight teams in each region qualified for the postseason. They made six consecutive playoff appearances from 2004-09.
Liberty has won four league championships, including last season when it shared the OCC-Cardinal title with Westerville Central and Westerville South.
"Obviously, we need to get better," said Hale, who has compiled a 69-39 record in his 10 seasons leading the Patriots. "Not making the playoffs and not getting a league title doesn't cut it at our place. In our three big games, they all got away from us. One of the things we're going to have to look at in this new league is the physical style of play."
All three of Liberty's losses came against teams that qualified for the Division I playoffs. The Patriots lost to Olentangy 28-16 on Aug. 31, marking their third loss in a row to the Braves, and fell to Coffman (36-28 on Oct. 19) and Davidson (28-7 on Oct. 11) in league play.
Liberty opened the season with a 43-21 win over its other sister school, Orange, on Aug. 24. The Pioneers finished 6-4.
"We played as a team, but I'm not happy that we didn't make it to the playoffs," junior running back Daryian Davies said. "I don't think it's a bad thing because we can only learn from this season. We will come back next year with a chip on our shoulder."
Liberty loses 23 seniors, including Joey Longhino, the most prolific quarterback in program history. He completed 156 of 226 passes for a program-record 2,214 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season and was named special mention all-district and first-team all-league.
A two-year starter, Longhino finished his career with a program-record 4,095 yards passing. Last season, he threw for 1,881 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, as the Patriots finished 6-4.
Other key seniors included Grant Cartwright (LB), Brandon Miller (LB), Austin Mullins (DB), Matt Muntean (WR/DB), Ryan Seibert (DB), Zach Shank (OL), Robert Suarez (LB), Tyler Welch (DB), Sam Vucelich (K) and Bryson Wray (TE/DB/P).
Wray had 31 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns and was second-team all-district and first-team all-league, and Muntean had 24 receptions for 427 yards and a touchdown and was first-team all-league.
Shank was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league. Miller, Vucelich and Welch also were second-team all-league, Mullins was special mention all-league and Suarez was honorable mention all-league.
Injuries forced Seibert to miss the season and Cartwright to miss the first five games. Cartwright was honorable mention all-district.
"That's football and it's going to happen," Cartwright said of the injuries. "We battled the best we could and I think we came into a new (league) and showed that we're a team that's not going to quit."
Among those expected to return is Davies, who added a new dimension to the Patriots' potent spread offense that averaged 34.1 points per game.
Davies finished with 1,057 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. He rushed for 893 yards and 11 touchdowns on 168 carries and caught 20 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns and was named honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league.
Others expected to return include juniors Luke Callahan (OL), Marshall Davis (DL), Eric Lorenzen (OL), Dan Rhinehart (WR), Carter Rudek (WR) and David Trzcinski (OL) and sophomores Hunter Littlejohn (OL) and Jacob Worrell (LB).
Rhinehart had 34 receptions for 519 yards and three touchdowns and was honorable mention all-district. Rudek had 27 catches for 425 yards and three touchdowns.
"More of our concerns (heading into next season) will be on the defensive side of the ball," Hale said. "There will be a lot of openings over there."