Olentangy football coach Mark Solis didn’t think there necessarily was a turning point in his team’s run to the Division II, Region 7 final.
The Braves were one of six 5-5 teams statewide to make the playoffs and one of only two to win two postseason games, along with eighth-seeded Carey in Division VI, Region 22.
Olentangy’s run came to an end Nov. 22 with a 35-14 loss to top-seeded and undefeated Toledo Central Catholic at Tiffin Columbian.
“I don’t know whether there was a turning point so much as our kids are just competitors,” said Solis, whose team finished 7-6. “They’ve fought all year. We knew even at 5-5 that we weren’t a bad team or even an average team. We are a good team. We competed hard and it’s a testament to their character and upbringing.”
The Braves were seeking their first regional championship since 2014 and second in program history.
Sixth-seeded Olentangy outgained the Irish 390-389 but fell behind 28-7 in the first half and did not capitalize on several opportunities in the second half. The Braves advanced to the Central Catholic 1-yard line twice and did not score, and the Irish’s defense held strong despite two fumbles and an interception from their offense.
Senior quarterback Trent Maddox completed 34 of 59 passes for 336 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Junior wide receiver Caleb Gossett caught 12 passes for 151 yards and junior wide receiver Jace Middleton had six catches for 74 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Olentangy did not score again until there were 5 minutes, 56 seconds to play, when Maddox threw a 26-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Jake Coleman.
“Things couldn’t have gone much better in the first half,” Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said. “In the second half, Christmas came early. We just gave the ball away. Thankfully our defense really stepped up in tight circumstances and kept them out of the end zone.”
The Braves played eight Division I teams and secured a playoff berth despite losing three of their final four regular-season games.
After committing seven turnovers in a 41-7 loss to Westerville Central on Nov. 1, Olentangy rebounded with a 42-10 rout of host and third-seeded Troy in a first-round playoff game Nov. 8 and a 31-21 upset of second-seeded Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in a regional semifinal Nov. 15 at Tiffin Columbian.
Maddox finished 238-for-370 passing for 2,810 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 95 carries.
Coleman led the Braves in catches (70), receiving yards (879) and touchdowns (12). Middleton, an Ohio State baseball commit, caught 58 passes for 861 yards and seven touchdowns and Gossett had 45 catches for 546 yards and six scores.
Junior Landon Johnson paced the running game with 82 carries for 467 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Mitchell Grubb led Olentangy in tackles through 12 games with 118. Senior defensive lineman/fullback Ethan Hand had a team-high 3.5 sacks before the regional final.
Gossett made a team-leading four interceptions and Middleton had three.
Coleman, Grubb, Maddox and Middleton were named first-team all-league. Gossett, Hand, seniors Josiah Seymour (WR/DB) and Toby Wilson (OL) and sophomore Hayden Olcott (K) were second-team all-league, junior Jason Feasel (OL/DL) was special mention all-league and senior Zach
Kershner (RB/LB) was honorable mention all-league.
Coleman, Grubb and Maddox were first-team all-district. Middleton and Wilson were second-team all-district, Gossett, Hand and Kershner were special mention all-district and Olcott, who made 31 of 32 extra-point attempts and four of seven field-goal tries, was honorable mention all-district.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Kaden Doup (WR/DB), Daniel Kelly (WR/DB) and Nathan Rudawsky (TE/DL) and sophomore Malik Wade (RB).
As part of OCC realignment starting next year, Olentangy will be in a six-team division with Berlin, Dublin Jerome, Hilliard Darby, Marysville and Thomas Worthington.
Olentangy will open at Westerville South and play its home opener in Week 2 against Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin. Non-league games follow against Lancaster, Orange and Reynoldsburg, meaning the Braves will not play Liberty for the first time since 2007.