Still looking for its first victory, the Olentangy Orange High School football team has shown marked improvement on defense the last two weeks.
The Pioneers' defense gave up two touchdowns in a 21-7 loss to Mount Vernon on Oct. 4 and one in a 17-14 loss to Dela-ware on Oct. 11. Mount Vernon is 5-2 and Delaware is 4-3.
Defensive coordinator Ted Papas said the improvement comes from a more physical style of play and growing confidence from younger players.
"We played well against Delaware and we have played better over the past couple of weeks," Papas said. "Defensively, we have gotten so much more physical, and that's a tribute to how hard the kids are working in practice. We started out with a young group and they are starting to get more consistency. They are showing that they are feeling confident in what they do."
The Pioneers are 0-7 overall and 0-4 in the OCC-Capital Division. Against Delaware, junior quarterback C.J. Stablein threw a pair of touchdown passes, a 33-yarder to senior wide receiver Emmanuel Djan and a 7-yarder to senior running back Jake Bobrowski.
"It was a tough loss from the standpoint that the defense only gave up 10 points," said coach Brian Cross, whose team plays host to Franklin Heights on Friday, Oct. 18, in a league contest. "We were lining up for a short field goal, but we bobbled the snap and fumbled (while) running (and) trying to make something from it. Delaware stripped the ball and (defensive back Caleb Howell) returned it (75 yards) for a touchdown. That was a big turnaround, going from possibly leading (10-3) to being down 10-7."
Papas pointed to senior linebackers Justin Gels and Jacob Lewis as players rallying the Pioneers' defensive effort. Gels had eight tackles and an interception against Delaware.
"Jake Lewis and Justin Gels both have been really solid and both play inside linebacker for us," Papas said. "They are seniors and play both offense and defense for us as well as special teams. They are gutting it out for us out there every play.
"Also, senior Cole Cunningham played on the offensive line last year and has been used pretty much exclusively on the defensive line this year, which can be a big change. He really has come into his own."
Senior Drake Straty was playing linebacker before suffering a knee injury, but junior Nick Lee has returned from a preseason injury to play on the defensive line. Bobrowski also has contributed on the defensive front.
Sophomores Tyler Litcher and Hunter Shepherd have been top performers in the secondary.
"We probably play 14 or 15 kids on defense and they all have been getting better each week," Papas said. "We really started to see the change in the Olentangy game (Sept. 27) even though the score (45-2 loss) might not have shown it. They have been playing with much more confidence."