Following a 45-2 victory at Olentangy Orange on Sept. 27, Olentangy High School football coach Mark Solis' postgame message to his team barely took more than a minute.
Solis lauded his defense for pitching a shutout, then reminded the undefeated Braves they could be no worse than tied for the OCC-Capital Division lead when they woke up the next day.
The last message holds a special significance. Olentangy, which is 5-0 under its first-year coach on the heels of a 10-win season last year, never has won a league championship in football.
Halfway through the season, all of the Braves' goals still are in front of them.
"(A league championship) is very important to us. We know the history," senior defensive end Nate Hall said. "We're going for the OCC. Right now, that's the only thing on our minds."
Olentangy played like it Sept. 27, needing only 14 offensive plays to take a 28-0 first-quarter lead and intercepting Orange freshman quarterback William Phillis three times. Sophomore quarterback Deeb Haber was 19-for-22 passing for 238 yards and three touchdowns, junior running back Drew Batt led the Braves with 92 yards rushing on 23 carries and senior receiver J.T. Grega caught five passes for 85 yards.
Batt scored a 68-yard touchdown on a double reverse midway through the first quarter. Senior Jonah Gutentag, who played a few snaps at quarterback in place of Haber, added a 1-yard run in the first-quarter onslaught and a 4-yard score on the final play of the first half to make it 42-2.
Haber said his understanding of the offense improved dramatically from his first varsity start, a 25-19 win over Big Walnut on Sept. 20. He replaced senior Noah Durst, who is out for the season with a hand injury.
"Things went a lot slower for me," Haber said. "I had to read a lot, and I'm understanding things better. In our offense, you read a lot but the pace, we're fast-paced. That's something big to get used to."
Orange's only points came on a safety late in the second quarter, when after a bad snap senior Hayden Hunter was tackled in the end zone.
The safety and 12 penalties, four of which were 15-yard personal fouls, were the only blemishes. But Solis couldn't say enough about his defense, which limited Orange to 128 yards. The first-team unit has allowed an average of 8.4 points per game.
"We play with an edge. We play nasty," Hall said.
"I like our physicality. They play so well together," Solis said. "Here's the key -- all of our kids are going one way. People don't understand how important it is at this level to be able to do that, and that's why we're so gosh-darn healthy. We don't have anybody hurt outside of Noah. The guy we have in there (Haber) is doing a darn good job. We're in fine shape."
Olentangy will try to get to 6-0 for the second consecutive year when it plays host to Franklin Heights in an OCC-Capital game Friday, Oct. 4.
Franklin Heights fell to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the OCC-Capital with a 42-13 loss to New Albany on Sept. 27. The Falcons scored all their points in the fourth quarter on a 19-yard touchdown run by running back Mitch Kittinger and quarterback Ray Spangler's 34-yard touchdown pass to receiver Seth Dawkins.
Kittinger also helps lead the defense from linebacker, with safety Matt German and inside linebacker Alonzo Longshore.
The Braves know undefeated New Albany awaits them Oct. 11 in a high-stakes game that might go a long way toward deciding the OCC-Capital title as well as helping to determine the Division II, Region 5 computer rankings. But they aren't talking about that opponent, at least yet.
"We can't look at who's coming down the pipe," Solis said. "We all know who's coming up in a couple weeks, but we can't mention that yet."