Olentangy Liberty High School football coach Steve Hale fought back tears as he reflected on his team's second consecutive regional title.
The Patriots earned a return trip to a Division I state semifinal with a convincing 34-7 win over top-seeded Toledo Whitmer in the Region 2 final Nov. 17 at Findlay.
"All we talked about before the game was how much they care about each other," Hale said. "This team cares about each other more than any other team I've ever seen, maybe rivaling last year's team. It's amazing to watch."
Liberty, which improved to 11-2, faces Mentor on Friday, Nov. 24, at Arlin Field in Mansfield. The winner plays Pickerington Central or Cincinnati Colerain in the state final Nov. 30 or Dec. 1 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Last season, Liberty reached a state semifinal for the first time and lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 24-14.
The second-seeded Patriots dominated Whitmer despite playing without senior Johnny Wiseman (WR/DB), who was suspended for one game after being called for targeting in Liberty's 17-14 win over Gahanna in a regional semifinal Nov. 10 at Westerville North.
Wiseman should return for the state semifinal, giving Liberty another key weapon. He has 33 catches for 460 yards and six touchdowns and is a valuable member of the secondary.
Mentor rallied past St. Ignatius 23-21 in the Region 1 final Nov. 17 at Bedford as Conor McIntosh's 27-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining accounted for the winning score. The Cardinals improved to 12-1 and will play in their first state semifinal since 2013 when they advanced to the final before losing to Cincinnati Moeller 55-52.
"Mentor has been doing a great job for a long time," Hale said. "Coach (Steve) Trivisonno is known not only through the state of Ohio, but through the country as well as being a great high school football coach and he has some talented players, so that's a good combination."
The Patriots took command early against Whitmer, leading 14-0 after one quarter. Matthew Webb got Liberty rolling when his 62-yard run set up his 1-yard touchdown run with 5:00 left in the quarter.
Webb finished with 156 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, giving him 1,002 yards and 12 touchdowns on 217 carries for the season.
"This means everything to me. It means everything to my team and my (teammates)," Webb said. "This is everything. We planned for this ever since our two losses during the (regular) season. We said we're going to win the regional title and we did."
Quarterback Mitchell Okuley completed 10 of 15 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 92 yards on 13 carries. For the season, he has completed 160 of 283 passes for 1,921 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and rushed for 431 yards on 102 carries.
Ben Roderick, who had four catches for 96 yards and a touchdown against Whitmer, has 41 receptions for 551 yards and 14 touchdowns for the season.
Liberty had a commanding 411-139 advantage in total yards against Whitmer, limiting the Panthers to 10 rushing yards and sacking Riley Keller five times.
Mentor quarterback Tadas Tatarunas passed for 167 yards and rushed for 67 against St. Ignatius. For the season, he has completed 222 of 342 passes for 2,968 yards with 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Running back Eli McDou-gall rushed for a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. For the season, he has 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Chris Edmond is another 1,000-yard rusher for Mentor, with 1,045 yards and 20 touchdowns on 168 carries, and senior Logan Shea (WR/DB) has 1,425 all-purpose yards.
Junior Ryan Jacoby, who is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, anchors the offensive line.
Seniors Mike Brey (LB) and Sam Kirschner (LB) and juniors Dan Adams (LB), Brady Benz (LB) and Noah Potter (DL, 6-6, 250) are key players on Mentor's defense.
Hale said his team would have a basic strategy as it prepared for the Cardinals.
"We'll just go back and do what we do -- focus on fundamentals, try and get better from last week, find the things that we need to work on, find the things that we need to improve on and make those the focus this week -- and talk to our kids again about being a team and working together, " Hale said. "That's the crucial thing at this point."