Although the Westerville Central High School football team went 4-6 last season, one of its most competitive losses was to eventual Division I state semifinalist Olentangy Liberty.
Count Patriots quarterback Mitchell Okuley among those who wouldn't be surprised if his team is involved in a game similar to the one Liberty won 31-28 last season.
"I'm thinking it's going to be a really good game," Okuley said. "They've got a couple good players that we're going to have to watch out for."
Entering the OCC-Buckeye Division opener for both teams, Liberty is 2-3 and Central is 3-2.
The Patriots have won two of their last three, including defeating Groveport 30-0 on Sept. 21, and have endured tight losses to Cleveland Glenville (19-17 on Aug. 31) and Hilliard Davidson (22-21 on Sept. 14).
Okuley didn't play against Glenville because of an ankle injury but has been on the field for the last three games and is 37-for-76 passing for 554 yards with five touchdowns while also rushing for three scores on the season. He threw for 195 yards and three touchdowns against Groveport.
Liberty has used Aidan Kenley as its No. 1 running back, and he has 309 yards rushing and one touchdown while adding one receiving touchdown.
Wide receiver Mitchell Kershner has 14 receptions, including seven for 120 yards and three scores against Groveport.
The Warhawks won their first three games but lost to Pickerington North 52-7 on Sept. 14 and then couldn't hang on to a 13-point lead in a 14-13 loss to Gahanna on Sept. 21.
"Our league is one of those where every time you look at the scores you get surprised every week and you never know who's going to come out on top," coach Brent Morrison said. "It's very competitive."
Warhawks quarterback LaBronz Davis II completed eight of 23 passes for 96 yards against Gahanna. He is 39-for-98 for 849 yards with six touchdowns on the season.
Running backs Zeke Healy, Justin Carter and Tariq Stewart all have rushed for more than 100 yards, with Luke Swaney (10 receptions, 241 yards, 4 TDs) and Myles Williamson (11 receptions, 157 yards) leading the receiving corps.
Last season, Liberty won the league title at 5-0 and Central went 2-3 but lost one other league game by four points, in addition to its three-point loss to the Patriots.
Central and Liberty have met 10 times, with the Patriots winning each of the last nine meetings. The Warhawks' 35-26 victory over Liberty in 2003 also was the first win in program history.
"We're pretty excited about the chance to get into league play," Morrison said. "Us and Liberty always tend to have pretty good battles, but historically speaking they've come out on top on us. I think our guys are looking forward to the game.
"We just had a lot of mistakes (against Gahanna) and you can't get them back. We kind of left the door open and they made some big plays when they needed to. But our defense played lights out, forcing five turnovers."