MANSFIELD — With a berth in the Division I state championship game on the line, the Olentangy Liberty High School football team tried to get the ball into the hands of one of its best playmakers.
On fourth-and-8 from the Mentor 25-yard line with 49 seconds left, Patriots quarterback Mitchell Okuley threw to the end zone under duress and wide receiver Johnny Wiseman sprinted to get there.
The ball landed just beyond Wiseman’s outstretched arms.
For the second consecutive year, Liberty ended its season in a state semifinal, as Mentor held on for a 27-21 victory Nov. 24 at Arlin Field.
The Patriots finished 11-3, while the Cardinals improved to 13-1 and advanced to play Pickerington Central in the state final.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” Okuley said. “We weren’t worried and just did our job, but came up a little short.”
The Patriots cut their deficit to 27-21 when Okuley hit Wiseman for a 17-yard touchdown on second-and-goal with 3:06 remaining. On that drive, Okuley connected with Ben Roderick for a 27-yard reception.
On the ensuing possession, Mentor quarterback Tadas Tatarunas was stopped for a 1-yard gain on third-and-3 and the Cardinals punted.
Liberty started its final possession on its own 32 and Okuley threw four completions to move the Patriots to the Mentor 27. Then on third-and-8 from the 25, Okuley’s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, setting up the final play.
“It gave us a chance,” coach Steve Hale said. “We were one step away on a couple plays and that would have made all the difference.”
Mentor’s passing game found its rhythm after halftime as Tatarunas set up three short touchdown runs. Tatarunas finished 22-for-32 passing for 251 yards with one touchdown, with Logan Shea having seven catches for 96 yards and Matt Hartman finishing with six receptions for 78 yards, including a first-half touchdown.
The Patriots capped an 80-yard drive to open the game with a 1-yard touchdown run by Webb.
With 2:35 left in the first quarter, a pass by Tatarunas was deflected by Edward Warinner into the hands of Mitchell Kershner at the Liberty 19, but the Patriots were forced to punt from their 6.
Mentor got the ball back at the Liberty 36 and scored three plays later on a 23-yard pass from Tatarunas to Hartman with 12 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Cardinals gave a glimpse of what was ahead on their first possession of the third quarter, as they drove 76 yards to take a 14-6 lead. On third-and-22, Tatarunas hit Luke Floriea for a 30-yard reception to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Chris Edmond.
Liberty’s Aidan Kenley returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to the Mentor 23. Okuley hit Roderick for a touchdown on the next play and completed a two-point conversion pass to Wiseman to tie the game at 14.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final OLENTANGY LIBERTY 6 0 8 7 21 MENTOR
7 0 14 6 27
OL—Webb 1 run (kick blocked)
M—Hartman 23 pass from Tatarunas (McIntosh kick)
M—Edmond 1 run (McIntosh kick)
OL—Roderick 23 pass from Okuley (Wiseman pass from Okuley)
M—Tatarunas 3 run (McIntosh kick)
M—Tatarunas 1 run (kick failed)
OL—Wiseman 17 pass from Okuley (Leary kick)