It's been since 2014 that a No. 1 seed in any region in Division I has lost its opening-round playoff game.

That could be a source of comfort for the top-seeded and host Olentangy Liberty football team heading into the first round of the Region 3 postseason Friday, Nov. 8, but its opponent has reasons to believe that it might buck that trend.

Westerville Central seemed to correct some of its recent struggles during a 41-7 victory over Division II playoff-qualifier Olentangy on Nov. 1 and got the help it needed from other results to earn the eighth seed and a rematch against the Patriots.

Liberty beat the Warhawks 17-7 on Oct. 4 in OCC-Buckeye Division play, but Central held the Patriots to 125 total yards and allowed just one touchdown drive. The Patriots' other scores came on a 15-yard fumble return by Kaden Tong and on a field goal.

After falling 10-7 to Orange on Oct. 25, the Patriots closed the regular season with a 35-0 victory over Westerville North on Nov. 1 to improve to 9-1 overall and finish as runner-up at 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye.

The Warhawks' loss to Liberty began a stretch in which they lost three of four, but they forced seven turnovers against Olentangy to finish the regular season at 7-3 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye.

Five of its six teams in the league made the postseason.

"We look at (the earlier matchup with Liberty) as a game where we moved the ball really well," Central coach Brent Morrison said. "That's a game that could have gone either way. After that game, we immediately took a knee and told our kids that that's probably a team we'll see again. I think our kids have been waiting for the rematch."

Central had 251 total yards against Liberty but scored its only touchdown on a 22-yard pass from Judah Holtzclaw to Jace Jarvis in the first quarter. Liberty trailed 7-3 when Dylan Stevens forced a fumble on a screen pass and Tong ran it in for the score.

Running back Aidan Kenley, who hasn't played the last two weeks because of injury and is questionable for the rematch, scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

That game also marked just the second start for Liberty senior quarterback Jackson Roberts, who is 85-for-140 passing for 1,133 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. Senior Corbin Parrish, who started the first four games at quarterback before getting hurt, returned as the punter in Week 10.

Against North, Roberts completed 14 of 24 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, Brennan Rowe rushed 17 times for 55 yards and two scores and A.J. Rausch added five receptions for 142 yards and one touchdown.

Rowe, a senior who did not play the last two seasons, has 119 rushes for 404 yards and six touchdowns. Rausch is a senior who is new to the program this fall but has 30 receptions.

"(The first game against Central is) a real good film to look at," Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "You look to see if their tendencies are the same. It was a really close game. Their defense is really good. They've got explosive athletes on offense. It's going to be a challenge."

Central senior Rickey Hyatt rushed 20 times for 100 yards in the earlier matchup but has been battling injury, according to Morrison. He has rushed 103 times for 669 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Senior Myles Williamson has 430 yards on 77 carries. Holtzclaw, a junior, is 138-for-239 for 1,922 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions, and junior wide receiver Luke Swaney has 42 receptions for 586 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Warhawks, who entered Week 10 at No. 10 in Region 3 in computer points, got an interception and a fumble recovery from Hyatt and intercepted Braves quarterback Trent Maddox four times. It marked the first win for Central over one of the Olentangy programs since 2016.

The Warhawks are in the postseason for the sixth time, including for the second year in a row. They are 4-5 all-time in the playoffs.

Liberty has lost in state semifinals each of the past three seasons and is 12-11 in 11 previous playoff appearances, all under Hale. The Patriots have been to the postseason six consecutive seasons.

Central beat Liberty 35-26 in 2003 for its first win when both programs were in their inaugural season but has lost the last 11 times the teams have met.

"Liberty always plays a very simple defense," Morrison said. "They're just going to kind of line up and play really hard and fast and have sound defense. Offensively it will be very similar. They've got a great quick passing game and know how to put some guys in some spots."

The winner plays fourth-seeded Groveport or fifth-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a regional semifinal Nov. 15 at a neutral site.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek