Coach Zebb Schroeder wanted to simplify things for the Olentangy Orange High School football team and did just that.
The Pioneers used their base defense to perfection and utilized their all-state performer in key situations to defeat host Olentangy Liberty 17-3 on Oct. 19 and control their destiny in the OCC-Buckeye Division.
Orange improved to 6-3 overall and 3-1 in the league, tying Liberty and Olentangy atop the standings. A victory over visiting Westerville South on Oct. 26 would give the Pioneers at least a share of their first league title since 2011.
The Patriots fell to 5-4 overall.
All-state defensive end Zach Harrison came up big on both sides of the ball for Orange. He caught four passes for 134 yards at wide receiver and had four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
“Zach’s a difference-maker,” Schroeder said. “I feel we have been burned before in crucial situations where we think players and not plays. We have the best player on the field (so) why not use him? He’s the plow horse for us.”
Harrison came up big in the second quarter with catches of 29 and 19 yards on a scoring drive that lasted 6 minutes, 4 seconds. The Pioneers drove 77 yards in 14 plays for the only touchdown they would need, taking a 7-3 lead on quarterback Robbie Dayhuff’s 1-yard run.
“I’m there when they call my number,” Harrison said. “I do what I need to do.”
Orange held the Liberty offense at bay, limiting the Patriots to 82 total yards.
“I think (defensive coordinator Matthew) Berndt and the defensive staff did a great job,” Schroeder said. “With high school football, you’re just better off in your base defense and coach your kids up on what they need to attack. We don’t want to overcomplicate things.”
Liberty’s points came on a 34-yard field goal by Mitchell Kershner in the second quarter.
Aidan Hill kicked a 22-yard field goal in the third before Mason Faulkner intercepted a Mitchell Okuley pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown with 2:45 left in the quarter.
“The defensive line did their job with the pressure and I was able to step in front of the ball and go,” Faulkner said. “It’s incredible to be able to do this.”
Dayhuff was 6-for-13 passing for 175 yards and rushed for 38 yards on 19 carries. Jake Vanchieri led Orange with 67 yards rushing on 22 carries, and Zane Lattig had two receptions for 38 yards.
Okuley was 2-for-14 passing for 13 yards and Aidan Kenley rushed for 62 yards on 18 carries.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final OLENTANGY ORANGE 0 7 10 0 17 OLENTANGY LIBERTY
0 3 0 0 3
OL—Kershner 34 FG
OO—Dayhuff 1 run (A. Hill kick)
OO—A. Hill 22 FG
OO—Faulkner 18 interception return (A. Hill kick)