For most of its Division I, Region 2 playoff opener against fifth-seeded Gahanna on Nov. 2, the fourth-seeded and host Olentangy Liberty High School football team relied on a grind-it-out running attack featuring quarterback Mitchell Okuley and running back Aidan Kenley.
What might have been the two most important plays during the Patriots’ 14-7 victory, though, were produced by a pair of complementary members of the roster.
With nine minutes remaining and the score tied at 7, Patriots junior defensive lineman Matthew Barrett recovered a fumble at the Gahanna 47.
Six plays later, running back Ryan Ritter ran a wheel route down the left side of the field, got open behind the defense and caught what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with 6 minutes, 47 seconds remaining.
“Our quarterback trusts me and he threw the ball to me and it was just kind of crazy for me,” Ritter said. “Right when I turned up field, I saw that no one was around me and I knew I had a chance to score.”
Liberty improved to 7-4 and advanced to play top-seeded Reynoldsburg in a regional semifinal Nov. 9, while Gahanna finished 5-6.
Both the Patriots and Lions had a turnover end a scoring opportunity during a first half that ended with the score tied at 7.
Gahanna took a 7-0 lead with 6:03 to go in the first quarter when quarterback Will Thomas hit C.J. Kiss for an 8-yard touchdown on third-and-7. A 53-yard run by Thomas moved the Lions to the Liberty 21 six plays before the touchdown.
Liberty drove to the Gahanna 13 on the ensuing drive, but Okuley was intercepted by Percy King at the goal line.
Gahanna moved to the Patriots 23 on a 17-yard pass from Thomas to Cam Morris, but the Lions fumbled the exchange on the next play and Liberty’s Jamie Hessing recovered the ball.
On the next drive, Liberty moved 76 yards in 15 plays, with Okuley scoring on a 1-yard run. The Patriots extended the possession on a 5-yard completion from Okuley to Jake Sincek on fourth-and-3 from the Gahanna 8.
“We did a really good job and were able to run the ball whenever we wanted to, and that kind of set up the pass a couple times,” Okuley said.
Kenley had 28 carries for 114 yards and Okuley rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and was 6-for-13 passing for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Gahanna’s Justus Harris, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons, finished with 50 yards on 12 carries. Thomas rushed for 68 yards and completed 16 of 22 passes for 128 yards.
“That’s state playoff football in Ohio,” Lions coach Bruce Ward said. “You can’t go into Week 11 and make mistakes and expect to win a game.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final GAHANNA LINCOLN 7 0 0 0 7 OLENTANGY LIBERTY
0 7 0 7 14
G—Kiss 8 pass from Thomas (Koss kick)
OL—Okuley 1 run (Kershner kick)
OL—Ritter 33 pass from Okuley (Kershner kick)