The annual meeting between the Olentangy and Olentangy Liberty high school football teams would be meaningful to the two schools even if nothing other than bragging rights were on the line.
That will not be the case Friday, Oct. 12, when the Braves visit the Patriots.
The winner will sit alone in first place in the OCC-Buckeye Division. Liberty likely would further solidify its playoff positioning in Division I, Region 2 with a win, while Olentangy could see a considerable jump in the Division II, Region 8 computer ratings thanks to the Division I points it would gain with a win.
Liberty was projected to be fifth in this week's Region 2 computer ratings, while Olentangy was projected to be 12th in Region 8.
The winner also would take a 6-5 lead in the series.
"We feel like we truly control our destiny and that our schedule has prepared us for this week and really everybody we're going to see the rest of the season," Braves coach Mark Solis said. "Somebody told me we have the second toughest schedule of all Division II teams in the state. I don't know about those metrics or whatever, but I know we've had a lot of tests and I think we're better for having gone through them."
Olentangy comes in at 3-4 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Buckeye after a 35-34 overtime win at Olentangy Orange on Oct. 5. That same night, Liberty climbed above .500 for the first time all year with its third consecutive win, 35-31 at Westerville South to improve to 4-3 overall and 2-0 in the league.
The Braves and Patriots are the only two unbeaten teams in the OCC-Buckeye.
"This is a throw-out-the-records kind of game anyway, but it's definitely important," Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "We had a tough schedule early. It's a work in progress, but we are getting there. We had some injuries, we even had some hand, foot and mouth disease. It's been trying, but we've adapted and I think the adversity has helped make us better."
Liberty trailed South 28-7 early in the second quarter before rallying with two touchdowns in a two-minute span of the fourth quarter to take the lead for good. Quarterback Mitchell Okuley scored on a 4-yard run with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left and threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jake Sincek with 4:11 to go.
Olentangy's Zach Shiblaq rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, including the winning score in overtime, against Orange. The Pioneers' two-point conversion attempt to win the game after Robbie Dayhuff's 20-yard touchdown pass to Zane Lattig in overtime made it 35-34 fell incomplete.
For the season, Shiblaq has rushed for 701 yards and seven touchdowns on 108 carries.
Braves quarterback Connor Haag has completed 99 of 150 passes for 1,131 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception. Caden Kaiser leads the wide receivers in yardage with 520 and five touchdowns on 31 catches, but Luke Riedel has a team-high 52 catches for 452 yards and three scores.
"They're very athletic. They move well and they run great routes," Hale said. "They move the ball around well and use a lot of misdirection. We have to be ready to defend a lot of looks."
Okuley, who missed the first two games of the season because of an injury, has completed 58 of 114 passes for 736 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. Mitchell Kershner has 23 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns, leading five receivers with at least 145 yards.
"We must find a way to stop Okuley," Solis said. "They look a lot like the teams we've seen every year. Their defense is a little bit different in coverage. They'll play with three down linemen and five linebackers, but it's a lot of the same things overall. They play really hard."