Coach Steve Hale shook his head incredulously Nov. 8 after the Olentangy Liberty football team’s latest escape.
“Survive and move on. That’s what the postseason is,” Hale told his players in a hushed tone after the Patriots hung on to edge Westerville Central 14-7 in a Division I regional quarterfinal that got downright crazy in the final minutes.
“Our kids just keep finding ways,” Hale said. “There’s no other way I can say it. They just battle, battle, battle every time out. We did just we needed to do to come out on top.”
With the score tied at 7, quarterback Corbin Parrish — who returned after missing six games because of a torn knee ligament — hit AJ Rausch on a 74-yard pass with 2:38 remaining.
“I saw my receiver win a one-and-one fight for the ball, but I didn’t see how it turned out because I ended up on my back,” said Parrish, who narrowly escaped a sack. “We made a lot of mistakes — I made a lot of mistakes — but we got the TD when it mattered.”
Rausch went up around the Westerville Central 40-yard line and outfought Kylin Byrd for the ball.
“He just threw it up, I saw it and made a play,” Rausch said. “All I had to do is beat the safety to the end zone. This is my first year playing football. It’s just an awesome feeling to make a play like that just when we needed it.”
Top-seeded Liberty (10-1) will face fourth-seeded Groveport (10-1) on Nov. 15 in a regional semifinal at a site to be determined.
Eighth-seeded Westerville Central (7-4) took over at its 23 and, after back-to-back sacks by Kaden Tong, converted a third-and-19 on a pass from Judah Holtzclaw to Jace Jarvis.
After Rickey Hyatt Jr. turned a short pass into a big gain, Holtzclaw hit Luke Swaney for 35 yards to the Liberty 2. Then the Patriots' defense stiffened, stuffing Michael Ross for a loss of 4. The Warhawks unraveled, picking up a false-start penalty and a dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Holtzclaw was sacked on third down and his fourth-down pass into the end zone was batted down.
“We played program football like we always do and the defense came up huge on that final stand,” Hale said. “That ending was just crazy. You can’t make this up.”
Tong, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound defensive end, had a magnificent game with six tackles for loss and four sacks.
“I think what it came down to was, we stayed composed at the end when all the craziness was happening,” Tong said. “We had picked up a few of their quarterback’s tendencies and we were able to get to him.”
Five weeks earlier, Liberty beat Central 17-7. This was a similar game in many respects with turnovers and field position playing a huge role.
The teams managed little yardage in the opening half. Liberty tilted field advantage on an interception by Holtzclaw and eventually did something with it.
Late in the half, Parrish hit Cam Barcus for 29 yards to march into scoring position. On third-and-4, Parrish split two defenders and found Barcus near the goal line for a 23-yard TD pass with 1:08 remaining.
After a good kickoff return and a 21-yard pass play from Holtzclaw to Steven Hartley, the Warhawks threatened to score, but Holtzclaw was intercepted by Ryan Ritter.
In the final two minutes of the third quarter, Westerville Central’s Zeke Healy intercepted Parrish. Liberty was penalized after the return, giving the Warhawks excellent field position.
On the next play, Holtzclaw hit an open Luke Swaney for a 33-yard TD pass to tie it at 7-7.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final WESTERVILLE CENTRAL 0 0 7 0 7 OLENTANGY LIBERTY
0 7 0 7 14