A year after reaching a state semifinal for the first time, the Olentangy Liberty High School football team has every reason to again be thinking big as it rides a six-game winning streak.
The Patriots' next opponent, Gahanna Lincoln, is looking to reach new heights as well.
On Friday, Nov. 10, at Westerville North, second-seeded Liberty meets the sixth-seeded Lions in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal.
The winner will face top-seeded Toledo Whitmer or fifth-seeded Olentangy in the regional final Friday, Nov. 17, at a neutral site to be announced.
"That's what we're looking to do, to make history," Lions coach Bruce Ward said.
Although Gahanna was a state runner-up in 1976, there were only two rounds of playoffs from 1972-79.
The Lions never have won more than one game in any of the previous 12 seasons they have been in the playoffs. They improved to 8-12 all-time with a 38-37 overtime victory at third-seeded Olentangy Orange on Nov. 3 in a first-round game.
It was Gahanna's first playoff win since 2011. The Lions, who lost in first-round games in 2014 and 2015 under Ward, are 7-4.
Liberty has followed its breakthrough season by going 9-2, including overwhelming seventh-seeded Dublin Jerome 35-0 on Nov. 3 at home to open the postseason.
Since losing 42-0 to Pickerington North on Sept. 22, the Patriots have given up an average of 15.2 points per game despite facing a slate that included three teams that made the playoffs.
Coach Steve Hale, who has guided the Patriots to a 7-9 playoff record that included three wins a year ago, hopes his team continues on the track it has been on since it beat Olentangy 28-17 on Oct. 13 and Orange 25-24 on Oct. 20.
"(Gahanna has) a lot of really good athletes," Hale said. "Their quarterback is one of the best we've seen, and they've got some other really talented players. It'll be a great challenge.
"We'll do what we do. We've got our schemes, we'll work our three-man (defensive) front and I'm sure we'll do some blitzing."
Lions quarterback Mike Lowery completed 21 of 33 passes for 309 yards with two touchdowns against Orange, including a 20-yarder to Jerome Buckner on the first play of overtime as Gahanna took a 38-31 lead. Orange followed with a touchdown but missed the extra point.
Buckner had five catches for 88 yards, giving him 62 receptions for 744 yards and 12 scores this season.
Lowery is 171-for-281 passing for 2,266 yards with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions, and Justus Harris has rushed for 1,010 yards and 19 touchdowns. Harris also has 27 receptions for 338 yards.
Defensively for the Patriots, senior cornerback Johnny Wiseman has six interceptions to lead the way.
"Liberty is big and physical and they'll be aggressive defensively," Ward said. "They were 13-1 last year and they've got a lot of those guys returning."
Gahanna has given up an average of 35.8 points the last four weeks but is 3-1 during that span, with its loss coming to Pickerington North 35-16 on Oct. 26.
Against Jerome, Liberty's Mitchell Okuley completed 12 of 15 passes for 163 yards and four touchdowns. Wiseman had touchdown catches of 30 and 74 yards, and Ben Roderick and Mitchell Kershner also had scoring receptions.
Running back Matthew Webb rounded out the scoring with a 6-yard run in the third quarter, and the game ended on a running clock.
Ward knows his team could be in for another high-scoring affair against the Patriots.
"We've played pretty good teams in the last four weeks," he said. "We haven't tackled very well defensively, but it's also been our opponents."