The Hilliard Davidson and Olentangy Liberty football teams are doing their best not to get caught up in the early season hype involving their squads.
Both the Wildcats and Patriots are 3-0 heading into their matchup Friday, Sept. 20, with host Davidson already possessing a season sweep of its two Hilliard rivals and Liberty coming off a shutout over a perennial northeast Ohio power.
Liberty has beaten Davidson two of the past three years, although the Wildcats won the matchup 22-21 last season.
"We have to just take care of ourselves," Wildcats senior running back Kristopher Thornton said. "We may be 3-0, but we still have a very long way to go. We know Liberty is one of the best teams in the state and, as of now, we're trying to work people into their roles on the team. We have suffered so many setbacks due to injury."
The Wildcats followed a 27-0 win over Grove City on Aug. 30 by beating Hilliard Darby 30-14 on Sept. 6 and Hilliard Bradley 17-9 on Sept. 13, marking their second consecutive season of starting at least 3-0. Their win over Liberty last season gave them a 4-0 mark, and they finished 11-2 as the Division I, Region 3 runner-up.
The Patriots reached a Division I state semifinal last season and finished 9-5 despite losing three of their first four games. They've started fast this season, opening Aug. 30 with a 31-19 victory over Pickerington North and following with wins over Huber Heights Wayne (19-10 on Sept. 6) and Cleveland Glenville (35-0 on Sept. 13).
Although those three opponents are a combined 1-8, each has been strong recently.
"We graduated a lot of guys last year and didn't know what to expect coming into the season," Patriots senior offensive lineman Ben Wrather said. "The younger guys have really stepped up and filled some holes this year. That has allowed us to focus on execution in our practices. Our coaches have designed game plans that put us in a good position to execute well and win some tough games."
An offensive line that features Wrather, his junior brother, Matthew Wrather, and seniors such as Tyus Thompson has helped Liberty's offense average 294 yards per game.
Senior quarterback Corbin Parrish has been steady in his first season as a full-time starter, completing 43 of 63 passes for 489 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Junior running back Aidan Kenley has 37 rushes for 258 yards and three touchdowns, with seniors A.J. Rausch (12 receptions, 104 yards, 1 TD) and Kyle Wilson (6 receptions, 55 yards, 2 TDs) and junior Camden Barcus (11 receptions, 203 yards, 3 TDs) leading the receiving corps.
Davidson senior quarterback Evan Tekancic has attempted only three passes all season and didn't throw any against Grove City or Bradley, with his offense depending on a stable of running backs to lead the way.
Thornton rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries against Bradley and has 205 yards on the season. Sophomore Jonathan Weir has 127 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, junior Leo Nixon has 248 yards and five touchdowns on 56 carries and Tekancic has 77 yards on 17 carries with one score.
Liberty hopes its balanced offense can put pressure on Davidson's defense similarly to Bradley, which finished with 294 yards but had one of its best opportunities to score stopped for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars also moved deep inside Wildcats territory on their final drive, but Davidson stopped Ethan Poff for a 13-yard gain on fourth-and-15 from the 19 with 42 seconds left.
"(Our) offensive line has been playing well through the first part of the season," Ben Wrather said. "Being able to run the ball well also opens up the passing game for us and keeps the defense guessing. We have put in a lot of work during the offseason and are having fun on and off the field.
"Davidson plays a tough brand of football. It's going to come down to which team is more disciplined."