The margin for error for the Olentangy High School football team will be microscopic in its five remaining games.

The margin for error for the Olentangy High School football team will be microscopic in its five remaining games.

The Braves, who fell to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division after losing to Marysville 21-7 last Friday, begin a demanding stretch when they travel to Olentangy Liberty on Friday. The Patriots made the playoffs the last six years.

The Braves' remaining schedule consists of home games against Dublin Jerome on Oct. 8 and Westerville South on Oct. 22 and road games against Westerville Central on Oct. 15 and Westerville North on Oct. 29.

"We know how crucial this stretch is going to be," said coach Ed Terwilliger, whose team lost four out of its last five games last season, being outscored 149-89 in that stretch. "We just don't have much room for mistakes in this league."

Olentangy is 0-2 all-time against Liberty.

"This definitely is the biggest week of the season," tight end and linebacker Garrett Schmidt said. "We haven't beaten Liberty and we're coming off a loss and that just adds fuel to the intensity of practice."

Olentangy is ahead of where it was last year at this point. Last year, the Braves didn't pick up their third win until Week 10, finishing 3-7 overall to match their worst finish since 1993.

Compared to last season, Olentangy has improved:

•Offensively: The Braves scored 70 points (an average of 14 per game) in their first five games last year, but equaled that total in their first two games this season.

•Defensively: The Braves allowed 21.4 points a game last season but are giving up 13.6 this year.

•Mentally, physically and emotionally: While it's hard to quantify that, Schmidt says one can sense the difference between this year and last season.

"Last year was a disappointing season," Schmidt said. "On the field, we weren't doing our jobs. That was something we had to change."

One of the things Olentangy did was return to a power running game. Last season, the Braves were held to a total of 33 yards in a 27-6 loss to Olentangy Orange and a 17-14 loss to Delaware in the first two games and rushed for a total of 424 yards through five games. This year, that total has more than doubled, with the Braves having rushed for 949 yards and 14 touchdowns.

According to Terwilliger, the reasons behind the increased production aren't hard to figure out. In their first two losses a year ago, the Braves lost graduate Joe Eschenbach and Tyler Foy to season-ending injuries and converted graduate Ben-Michael Welch from receiver to running back to fill the void. Combine that with an inexperienced offensive line and the results speak for themselves.

This year, not only is the line more experienced, but the team has a healthy stable of running backs. Fifteen players have rushing attempts so far this season and four - William Greathouse (388 yards and eight touchdowns), Derrick Rodgers (163 yards), Joshua Perry (163 yards, three touchdowns) and Joey Gadd (118, three touchdowns) - have run for more than 100 yards.

Defensively, Olentangy has been led by University of Akron recruit Bryce Cheek, who returned a fumble 56 yards for a touchdown in a 27-7 win over Orange on Aug. 27 and had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 42-13 win over Dublin Scioto on Sept. 17, and Ohio State recruit Joshua Perry. The Braves have recovered four fumbles and intercepted four passes, matching their total from last season.

Terwilliger said what has helped the team improve defensively was that the players made each other more accountable.

"We've come a long way from last year," junior offensive lineman Brandon Owens said. "We're pretty close knit and we've all improved together. Last year was hard, but our coaches made us believe we could be a good team this year and brought us to where we are."