The way the Olentangy High School football team got into the Division II, Region 8 playoffs might be something that sticks with coaches and players forever.
The Braves piled up 537 yards of offense, including 328 on the ground, in a 42-21 victory at Westerville Central on Oct. 26. The win earned the Braves a share of the OCC-Buckeye Division championship with Liberty and Orange as all three went 4-1, but the Braves' attention was on the playoffs.
Olentangy's win began a domino effect of needed results, the last of which was Hilliard Darby's 13-11 victory over Dublin Scioto. That helped catapult the Braves from 11th place in Region 8 to eighth place and the final playoff berth despite a 5-5 record.
The Braves' reward is a trip to top-seeded Cincinnati Winton Woods, last year's Division II state runner-up, for a first-round game Friday, Nov. 2.
"I told the players that of our last 16 quarters, 14 of them were pretty good other than the first half at Liberty," coach Mark Solis said of a 21-14 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 12. "We didn't necessarily expect to get into the playoffs with everything that needed to happen, but we're battle-tested. We're peaking at the right time."
Olentangy is in the playoffs for the fifth year in a row and 13th time overall.
"We all were in the locker room with huge smiles on our faces," linebacker Nick McCafferty said. "We've worked hard to get to this point. We haven't always played well, but we kept at it."
Running back Zach Shiblaq rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries, and quarterback Connor Haag completed 12 of 19 passes for 208 yards and four scores.
Winton Woods, which was ranked seventh in the state last week, has won nine consecutive games since opening with a 13-3 loss to defending Division III state champion Trotwood-Madison. Led by junior running back Miyan Williams and sophomore quarterback Mi'Chale Wingfield, the Warriors are averaging 36.2 points and allowing 16.8.
Olentangy is scoring 26.9 points per game and giving up 22.6.
Williams, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior, has rushed for 1,936 yards and 27 touchdowns.
The Warriors also have a standout lineman in senior Anthony Booker Jr., a 6-5, 283-pounder who has a list of 16 offers that includes Indiana, Maryland, Pittsburgh and most of the Mid-American Conference. Booker has 7.5 sacks.
"They're very fast, one of the fastest teams we've seen all year," said tight end Ian Drummond, who caught three passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns last week. "We have to be ready to do everything quickly. This week is all about being fast."
The winner will play fourth-seeded Trenton Edgewood or fifth-seeded Morrow Little Miami in a regional semifinal Nov. 9.
"The playoffs are a challenge," Solis said. "We're one of 32 teams alive (in Division II). Everybody is 0-0. I've learned throughout the years that in the playoffs, you just have to find a way to win. It doesn't matter how."