The Olentangy Liberty football team ran out of answers during its 13-7 loss to Groveport in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal Nov. 15 at Gahanna.
In a rematch of a game they won 21-14 on Sept. 27, the top-seeded Patriots were tied with the fourth-seeded Cruisers at 7 early in the third quarter when coach Steve Hale was told that senior quarterback Corbin Parrish wouldn't be able to continue playing.
Parrish and senior offensive lineman Ben Wrather, a Northwestern commit, were among several key players to battle injuries throughout the season.
While Wrather played his last game Sept. 20, Parrish missed five weeks with a knee injury before returning late in the regular season. He was at quarterback for Liberty's 14-7, first-round playoff victory Nov. 8 over eighth-seeded Westerville Central and played there and handled punting duties into the third quarter against Groveport.
On the series after Parrish exited the game, the Cruisers scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run by Emmanuel Anthony.
After having its next two drives stall with senior Jackson Roberts at quarterback, Liberty got one final opportunity after its defense stopped the Cruisers on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 1 minute, 24 seconds left.
With his team forced to go 99 yards, Roberts completed six of eight passes, including five to junior wide receiver Cam Barcus, and the Patriots tried a series of hook-and-laterals before the clock ran out at the Groveport 48.
"We've got a great group of kids," said Hale, whose team finished 10-2 overall. "They do amazing things. They're great students, they're great players, they're great kids to coach and it makes our job so easy.
"It's hard to say anything bad about them. What we ask them to do, they do. There's no quit in them. Even when this game looked to be over on the 1-foot line, we're still getting a goal-line stand and giving ourselves a morsel of a chance there. It just didn't work out this time. We've had a lot of games where it has and this time it just didn't."
Liberty beat seven opponents by 12 or fewer points and won its first eight games before falling to Orange 10-7 on Oct. 25 to settle for a runner-up finish in the OCC-Buckeye Division at 4-1, behind the Pioneers (5-0).
On their way to making the playoffs for the 12th time, the Patriots defeated seven teams that made the postseason. They are now 13-12 all-time in the postseason, including having made three consecutive state semifinal appearances from 2016-18.
"(The seniors) played a lot of football games the last four years and I'm just really proud of them and their legacy," Hale said.
Parrish, Roberts and Wrather were part of a 33-player senior class.
Seniors Ben Cox (LB) and Kaden Tong (DL/P) were first-team all-district, senior Tyus Thompson (OL) was second-team all-district, seniors Ben Flees (OL/DL) and Dylan Stevens (LB) were special mention all-district and senior Matthew Barrett (OL/DL) was honorable mention all-district. Barrett, Cox, Stevens, Thompson and Tong were first-team all-league, with Flees and senior A.J. Rausch (WR) making second-team all-league, senior Miller Ridpath (LB) receiving special mention all-league and senior Jack Forsman (OL/DL) making honorable mention all-league.
Parrish finished 74 of 114 passing for 955 yards with nine touchdowns and Roberts was 95-for-156 for 1,199 yards with eight touchdowns.
Rausch had 34 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns.
Other key seniors included Ryan Bird (DB), Tyson Chapman (WR/DB), Jacob Kessler (DB/WR), Ryan Ritter (RB/DB), Brennan Rowe (RB/LB), Tyus Thompson (DL/OL) and Kyle Wilson (WR/DB).
Rowe had 520 yards and six touchdowns on 151 rushes and added 20 receptions. He was the No. 1 running back by season's end after Liberty lost junior Aidan Kenley to injury. Kenley rushed 92 times for 477 yards and six touchdowns.
Drew Thornton, who was second-team all-district and second-team all-league at defensive back, and Barcus, who was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league, were other key juniors. Barcus had 45 receptions for 622 yards and five touchdowns, and Thornton had three interceptions.
Juniors Dominick Magistrale and Brian Yamokoski were key contributors at wide receiver, and junior Matthew Wrather should lead the team's returning two-way linemen.
Junior Mitchell Fields, who battled for the quarterback job during the preseason, should be the top candidate to take over the starting job next season.
Junior Tyler Rosselli served as kicker and also could take on a role at running back next year.
Because of OCC realignment, Liberty and Orange will be moving next season into a league that will include Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Upper Arlington.
"We've been playing together since a young age," Chapman said. "The culture since I've been here has been all about brotherhood, doing it for each other and not about one person. That's what makes this team special."