One step remains for the Olentangy Orange football team in its pursuit of the outright OCC-Buckeye Division championship, but a big piece of the puzzle came together Oct. 25 on its home field.
A defense that forced three turnovers proved to be the difference for the Pioneers as they beat previously unbeaten Olentangy Liberty 10-7 to improve to 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the league.
The Patriots, who also lost to Orange last season when both teams ended up sharing the league title with Olentangy, dropped to 8-1 overall and 3-1 in the league.
“When we need to get a play, when we need to make something happen, (our hard work) pays off on the field in clutch situations,” Pioneers junior defensive back Joey Guagenti said. “We’re on a roll right now and we’re going to keep it going.”
The Pioneers scored all of the points they needed in the first half, with a miscue by the Patriots setting up the game-winning score.
With 10 minutes, 46 seconds left in the second quarter, Jared Pack recovered a fumble for the Pioneers at the Liberty 35.
On the ensuing drive, Orange benefited from a defensive pass interference penalty to move to the Patriots’ 8. Two plays later, quarterback Spencer Hawkins connected with Caden Konczak for a 2-yard touchdown and the game’s final points.
“The center pulled and I read it, I saw the ball hit the ground and I had to go for it,” Pack said of his fumble recovery. “It’s the definition of bend but don’t break. We just never gave up.”
Liberty, which outgained Orange 297-208 in total yards but held the ball for fewer than 17 minutes, attempted to set the tone early.
Cam Barcus returned the opening kickoff to the Patriots’ 40 to start what would become a nine-play drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Brennan Rowe.
Orange responded by driving deep into Liberty territory, with Jack Behre making a 26-yard field goal with 5:25 to go in the opening quarter.
The Patriots missed a 20-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter and moved to the Orange 14 on another possession in the first half that ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-1.
Hawkins finished 18-for-29 passing for 149 yards with one touchdown and Zane Lattig had 11 receptions for 83 yards to lead the Orange offense.
Cardan Mutai also had a fumble recovery for the Pioneers, who limited Liberty to 27 yards rushing and have won six games in a row.
Quarterback Jackson Roberts completed 15 of 20 passes for 141 yards for the Patriots.
“We turned it over at inopportune times, and when you do that, you’re not going to win games,” Patriots coach Steve Hale said. “We’ve just got to go clean that up, figure out what we did wrong and get it fixed.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final OLENTANGY LIBERTY 7 0 0 0 7 OLENTANGY ORANGE
3 7 0 0 10
OL—Rowe 1 run (Butler kick)
OO—Behre 26 FG
OO—Konczak 2 pass from Hawkins (Behre kick)