The similarities between the Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy Orange high school football teams begin with their overall record but don't stop there.
The Patriots have found their comfort zone during the season's second half, as they enter the matchup against the visiting Pioneers on Friday, Oct. 19, on a four-game winning streak that has them at 5-3 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division and on track to make the Division I, Region 2 playoffs.
A slow start also hasn't kept the Pioneers from approaching their goals. Despite losing two of their first three games, they enter the matchup at 5-3 overall and 2-1 in the league and remain in contention for a Region 2 playoff berth.
Throw in the versatility of both Liberty quarterback Mitchell Okuley and Pioneers quarterback Robbie Dayhuff, and the 10th meeting could end up being as tight as the last three between the programs.
Although Liberty has won the past seven meetings and holds an 8-1 lead in the all-time series, it needed two overtimes to beat Orange 20-13 during the 2016 regular season and edged the Pioneers 24-17 in the first round of the Region 2 playoffs that season.
Last fall, the Patriots handed Orange its only regular-season loss, beating the Pioneers 25-24.
"Looking back at most of our conference games the last couple years, they've all been (tight games)," Orange coach Zebb Schroeder said. "It's just the way it is. Liberty making the playoffs and having success, that really helps you if you earn your ticket into November. It helps you kind of get battle-tested for playoff games, too."
On Oct. 12, Liberty beat Olentangy 21-14 and Orange edged Westerville Central 14-10.
The play of Okuley and Dayhuff has been a key factor in the resurgence of their respective teams.
Okuley missed time early in the season with an ankle injury but has completed 67 of 127 passes for 1,015 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions, while Dayhuff is 70-for-117 passing for 859 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
In addition, both can burn opponents with their feet: Okuley has rushed for 284 yards and 10 touchdowns on 82 carries and Dayhuff has rushed 91 times for 599 yards and five scores.
"Over the last two or three years, we've graduated a ton of seniors, and some of these guys had to grow up a little bit and learn how to play varsity football," Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "We had some injuries early on and dealt with Mitchell's injury, and then had hand, foot and mouth (disease) and all these other things (go through the team) where we're pulling guys out of the lineup. Hopefully, we're getting back to where we're in a rhythm of having our normal guys in the lineup consistently and hopefully it's at the right time."
Both teams' No. 1 running backs also have similar stats.
Liberty's Aidan Kenley has rushed for 623 yards and a touchdown on 142 carries and has 10 receptions for 155 yards and one score, while Orange's Mark Roberts has rushed 103 times for 682 yards and seven touchdowns and has three touchdown receptions.
Both teams have used a committee of wide receivers, with Mitchell Kershner leading the Patriots with 26 receptions for 380 yards and three touchdowns and Zane Lattig having 20 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Pioneers.
Perhaps the game will be determined by how Liberty matches up against Orange's Zach Harrison, who has 14 receptions for 209 yards and four touchdowns while seeing time at wide receiver and tight end and has seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as a defensive lineman. He also blocked a field-goal attempt against Westerville Central.
"(Harrison is) the consummate team player who does whatever he needs to do to help the team," Schroeder said. "He's special."
While Harrison is among the nation's top recruits from the 2019 recruiting class, Liberty counters on the offensive line with a unit that features seniors Alex Azusenis, Nick Brown, Nick Hall and Brady Kuhn. Azusenis has 14 scholarship offers and Kuhn has been offered by Morehead State.
"We'll play Orange with a chance to play for a league title, and that will be exciting," Hale said. "I'm sure they'll bring us everything they have, just like (Olentangy) did. But hopefully we're getting at things ahead of us. We have faced a lot this year and hopefully we've put a lot of that behind us."