While offense usually grabs the headlines, the Olentangy Orange High School football team’s defense has been dominant in leading the Pioneers to a 2-0 start this season.
Orange has allowed just a fourth-quarter touchdown in a 32-7 win at Worthington Kilbourne in its opener Aug. 25. The Pioneers blanked Watterson 22-0 on Sept. 1 at Otterbein University, allowing just 46 yards rushing.
Orange allowed only 82 total yards against Kilbourne.
“We have a lot of experience on that side of the ball,” Pioneers coach Zebb Schroeder said. “It’s just a good chemistry group. Our defensive staff has been together three, four years. Our seniors have been on the defense for four years. We’re coaching so much more of the finer details because they understand the big picture.”
The Pioneers’ perfect record will be on the line in their home opener against Dublin Jerome on Friday, Sept. 8.
The Celtics dropped to 1-1 with a 35-0 loss to visiting Pickerington North on Sept. 1.
Jerome managed just 11 total yards and three first downs, including one by penalty, against the Panthers. Celtics coach Bob Gecewich said his team will need an improved offensive effort if it is to bounce back against the Pioneers.
Orange’s defense could be without a key player in 6-foot-5, 225-pound junior defensive end Zach Harrison, who was scheduled to have an MRI on his left leg Sept. 2 after suffering an injury late in the win over Watterson.
Harrison, a highly touted college recruit, did not return and left the field on crutches.
Even if Harrison can’t play, Gecewich said his team still will be challenged by the Pioneers’ stingy 4-2-5 defense.
“I love their inside linebacker (Bryce Houston),” Gecewich said. “He’s a monster. They have some really good skill kids. They have a secondary kid (Jayden Rodgers) who they’re really high on as far as colleges go. Their defense has been lights out. Their defense is going to be really fast, really athletic, and their offense gives some multiple looks.”
Schroeder said Houston and linebacker Zane Fisher have been keys to the defense’s success.
“They are the heartbeat,” Schroeder said. “They get us lined up and they’re making a ton of tackles, so it helps to have two extremely good and productive senior linebackers at the core of everything.”
Jerome also had a key injury in Week 2, as senior wide receiver Max Darrow suffered a collarbone injury that Gecewich said would need further testing this week.
The Pioneers feature a spread wing-T offense, led by quarterback Luke Schmeling, who played wide receiver last season. Schmeling has passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns in two games.
Running back Graham Starn has rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns.
Jerome played well offensively in a season-opening 41-7 win over Logan on Aug. 25, as quarterback Hayden Schell passed for 134 yards and two touchdowns and running back Robert Cope rushed for 122 yards and three scores.
“Coach Gecewich has done a phenomenal job of building a culture,” Schroeder said. “Those kids at Jerome expect to win. They’ve done a nice job the last couple of years. I know they’re going to be fired up to play. I know they’re going to be technically sound.”
Orange is 2-0 for the first time since 2009, when it won its first four games.
“It feels good,” Schroeder said of the 2-0 start. “Obviously, it’s better than the alternative. Our kids have worked hard for this. They’re really excited about what their potential as a team could be. They’ve bought into the overall plan of what we’re doing and they get into learning our plan and preparing. Our defensive kids prepared so well last week.”