A sign of a mature team is when individual egos are set aside for team success.

On Oct. 27, Olentangy Orange High School running back Graham Starn demonstrated how important that is.

Starn, the Pioneers’ leading rusher, filled in for injured middle linebacker Bryce Houston after he suffered a season-ending knee injury last week and helped limit Westerville South’s potent offense in Orange’s 35-7 win in an OCC-Buckeye Division game.

Pioneers coach Zebb Schroeder said Starn came to the coaching staff during the week and said he wanted to help on defense with Houston, an Ohio University commit, sidelined. Starn said he hasn’t played defense since his sophomore year when he was a 160-pound safety and admitted he’s never really liked playing defense until Oct. 27.

“I just want to win,” Starn said. “That transition, it was hard. It’s a whole new side of the ball; I haven’t played it all year. I haven’t played it in years. But I felt like I had to do it and I said, ‘You know what, I’ll do it if need be.’ So they gave me the job and I went out there and played as hard as I can.”

Starn’s first night at the center of Orange’s defense went smoothly, with the Pioneers (9-1 overall, 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye) limiting the Wildcats (4-6, 1-4), who entered the game averaging 27.3 points, to seven points and Ohio State commit Jaelen Gill to 90 yards on 21 carries.

“We executed so well tonight, especially our defense,” Schroeder said. “To hold that offense to seven points is a tall task, because they’re just electric. They have playmakers everywhere.”

The Pioneers defense also forced two turnovers. Senior linebacker Zane Fisher recovered Michael McLemore’s fumble on the game’s first play from scrimmage, then did it again after Gill had the ball poked out of his grip while cutting back toward midfield on a screen pass. Fisher scooped the ball up and returned it to the 50.

Both of those turnovers set up Pioneers touchdowns.

Orange running back Jack Applegate shouldered the bulk of the carries with Starn’s absence in the backfield, rushing for a season-high 140 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns. Junior running back Mark Roberts also ripped off a 72-yard run in the third quarter.

Starn eventually made his way into the backfield mix after the Pioneers established a commanding lead, rushing for 29 yards on four carries and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

South quarterback Max Barber and McLemore connected for 37 yards in the second quarter for the Wildcats’ only touchdown.

Orange bounced back after a 25-24 loss to Olentangy Liberty last week. The Pioneers feel they’re in a good place going into the Division I playoffs — even with their starting running back playing middle linebacker.

“We are very excited for what’s to come,” Applegate said. “We’ll enjoy this one for what it is, but we’ll get in the film room tomorrow and start looking at that for the next task ahead.”

jhorton@dispatch.com

@joshhorton22

==========

Team 1 2 3 4 Final OLENTANGY ORANGE 14 7 7 7 35 WESTERVILLE SOUTH
0 7 0 0 7