Regardless of what the statistical line said, this was a career night for tailback Aidan Kenley of the Olentangy Liberty football team.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior scampered, slithered and pounded his way to 116 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns Sept. 20 as the visiting Patriots carved out a 22-10 victory over Hilliard Davidson in a matchup of unbeaten, state-ranked teams.
“Definitely, against a defense like that, it had to be one of my better games,” Kenley said. “Kudos to my offensive line. They did all the work. We worked them over up front and ran the ball pretty much how we wanted to all night.”
Liberty coach Steve Hale beamed at the progress Kenley has made over his high school career.
“He’s a tough, battle-tested kid who has played in three final fours,” Hale said. “I’m telling you, the college people had better take a look at this kid. He can literally play anywhere. He’s a special, special kid … sort of in the way Brendon White was.”
A storm-delayed game with many momentum swings turned one final time with 8:10 left in the fourth quarter.
With Davidson trailing 16-10 and facing a fourth-and-3 at its own 35 yard line, Wildcats coach Brian White called a timeout. He then ordered a fake punt, but a run by the up-back came up a foot short.
“At that point, I felt like I had to do something,” White said of his decision. “I’m sure they were expecting it, but we thought we might have something there. Most of our kids battled their butts off, but Liberty outplayed us most of the night and we felt like it was on us to keep a drive alive there.”
After that, it took six plays for Kenley to find his way to the end zone for the second time, as he scored with 5:21 left. He had two electric 11-yard runs on the final drive.
Liberty (4-0) allowed Davidson (3-1) just one first down in the second half, and that came in the final minute. For the game, Liberty outgained the Wildcats 372-214 in total yards.
Davidson intercepted Liberty twice in the red zone to keep things competitive.
There was only one penalty called in the matchup of two fundamentally sound teams.
“That’s an excellent football team that just beat us tonight,” White said. “I think the difference came up front. That big offensive line of theirs took over the game. As you could see, our defensive linemen aren’t exactly big. Also, kudos to Kenley. He really runs hard.”
But Liberty was playing without several injured linemen, Hale said. Also, starting quarterback Corbin Parrish was injured on a low hit while scrambling for extra yardage early in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the field.
“Next guy up has been our mantra all along,” Hale said. “We’re down to linemen seven and eight now. And hopefully Corbin will be OK. Jackson (Roberts) is ready to play, though, if we need him.
“That’s a big win for us. If you want to know how good you are, you have to beat Hilliard Davidson. We knew this would be a great challenge for us, and the kids answered it. They responded to every bit of adversity they came up against.”
Kristopher Thornton rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries for Davidson.
Just two plays into the game, a lightning flash produced a mandatory 30-minute delay. The stoppage ended up lasting 1 hour, 24 minutes.
Liberty came out of the delay clicking on all cylinders, marching 80 yards in 16 plays while amassing six first downs. Kenley capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown.
After a quick three-and-out by Davidson, the Patriots went to work again. Liberty drove from its 31 to the Davidson 5. On second-and-2, Parrish threw a short sideline pass near the goal line to Camden Barcus. A Davidson defender clobbered Barcus in the midsection, jarring the ball loose. The Wildcats’ Nick Dymek plucked it out of the air for a timely interception.
Davidson then proceeded to march 90 yards on 17 plays for the tying score. Esaa Gul capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
But Liberty mounted another drive, advancing deep into Davidson territory. The Wildcats’ defense then stiffened, forcing the Patriots to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Tyler Rosselli.
It was 10-7 Liberty in a quick-moving half, all things considered.
Davidson’s Sean Carrier kicked a 26-yard field goal to tie it at 10 with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
Liberty’s Brennan Rowe scored on a 21-yard run with 2:55 left in the period, but the two-point conversion try failed.
This matchup has produced some classic games in recent years. Liberty won 17-10 in 2017 and Davidson prevailed 22-21 a year ago.
Liberty has played in three straight Division I state semifinals, but the Patriots this year moved to Region 3, which is perceived to be more competitive. Davidson and Pickerington Central also are in Region 3.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final OLENTANGY LIBERTY 7 3 6 6 22 HILLIARD DAVIDSON
0 7 3 0 10