When Olentangy Liberty High School football coach Steve Hale arrived for his team's workout and film review Sept. 7, his message couldn't have been clearer.
The night before, the Patriots suffered a painful loss to Olentangy in a game that took two overtimes before the Braves prevailed 26-23.
On fourth-and-goal at the 1, Olentangy running back Anthony Golden gave the Braves an unlikely victory -- Liberty led 20-6 with less than seven minutes left in regulation.
"I told the team we don't have time to think about it," said Hale, whose team fell to 1-1 and plays host to Uniontown Lake on Friday, Sept. 13. "It's a long season. There are a lot of teams that lost close games (last weekend) and now it's all about how you respond to it. We still have a lot of football left."
The Patriots have been in this position before. Since 2009, they have lost at least one of their non-league contests, but finished with a winning record.
After missing the last three postseasons, Liberty is looking to end a drought that began after six consecutive playoff appearances from 2004-09.
In 2009, Liberty suffered a 52-0 defeat to Dublin Coffman in week one and went on to reach the playoffs. That season ended at 7-4 overall with back-to-back losses (47-20 and 50-14) to Westerville South, the second one in the Division I, Region 3 playoffs.
"I think losing (to Olentangy) will be all the more important to us," receiver Dan Rhinehart said. "We know that was a game that we really wanted to win. It's only going to motivate us more. We have eight games left and we're not planning on losing any of them."
The strategy this week will be to stop one of the best running backs in northeast Ohio.
Lake's Matt Blasiole was the leading rusher in Stark County a year ago with 1,656 yards and 17 touchdowns.
In a 20-7 loss to Hudson on Sept. 6, he rushed for 152 yards on 28 carries. He had 105 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in a 28-19 win over Green on Aug. 30.
"They are a smash-mouth team and that's exactly what you'd expect from northeast Ohio," said Hale, whose team came from behind to defeat Lake 35-28 last season. "(Blasiole) is a phenomenal player and we know he can run the ball extremely well. We're going to have to be ready for that."
Liberty also has shown it's capable of producing a potent rushing attack.
In a 25-7 win over Olentangy Orange on Aug. 30, the Patriots compiled 341 yards rushing on 49 carries.
Junior Nick Durtschi, who had 185 yards and two touchdowns on eight attempts against Orange, has accompanied returning starter senior Daryian Davies in the backfield.
Senior quarterback Matt Kessler, a first-year starter, has been effective, completing 36 of 59 passes for 361 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.