Olentangy: Defense keying Braves’ success

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Olentangy’s Luke Martin (left) and Ethan Hand team up to stop Gavin Angell of Berlin during their game Sept. 4. The Braves’ defense held three of their first four opponents to seven points or fewer. Olentangy visits Marysville on Friday, Oct. 2, for a league title showdown.

Every week presents a different challenge for the Olentangy football team’s defense, beyond whether the Braves will face a running team or one that prefers the pass. 

To break up the potential monotony of film and scouting reports, defensive coordinator Brett Thompson devises themes that often incorporate pop culture and humor. 

“Each week, we have a theme of the week,” defensive end Ethan Hand said. “We have scouting reports and he’ll throw a clip in here like ‘Terry Tate, Office Linebacker’ (a 2000s TV commercial) or something about Mike Tyson. This week’s theme is ‘play together’ and there was a scene from ‘Gladiators.’ It’s fun, something different.” 

Coach Mark Solis credited Thompson’s unit for playing a large part in the team’s start, as Olentangy won its first four games before falling 27-16 at home to Dublin Jerome on Sept. 25.  

The Braves – who were ranked 10th in Division II in last week’s state poll – held three of their first four opponents to seven points or fewer and will try to recapture that form Friday, Oct. 2, when they travel to Marysville for a game that will determine the OCC-Cardinal Division championship. 

“When you play physical and hit opponents in the mouth, you’ll always have a chance to win,” defensive end Nathan Rudawsky said. 

Led by seniors Jason Feasel, Hand and Rudawsky on the line, classmates Landon Johnson, Jace Middleton and Brady Ramsey at linebacker and seniors Caleb Gossett and Daniel Kelly in the secondary, Olentangy was plus-six in turnovers through four games. The Braves had five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns by Gossett and Kelly, and three fumble recoveries. 

Johnson, who also is the team’s top running back, had 36 tackles through four games. Ramsey had 33 and Gossett and Hand both had 23. 

“They understand what we’re looking for, they understand what we want to do and they execute,” said Thompson, a former Baldwin Wallace player who coached Braves linebackers from 2016-18 before becoming defensive coordinator. “Just tracking the ball was our main problem last year, just getting to the ball and in position to tackle. This year, we’re doing a much better job.” 

Several Braves agreed that a 7-3 season-opening win at Orange on Aug. 28 set the tone for the season. 

“When we hold a rival opponent like that to three points, it definitely gives us a confidence boost,” said Johnson, who also rushed for 237 yards and five touchdowns through four games. “It’s easy as a linebacker to read, guard and make the play, especially behind our line.” 

Marysville, which is 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the league after a 28-0 win over Berlin on Sept. 25, thrives on a wing-T offense. The Monarchs ran for 412 yards three weeks ago in a 31-12 win over Jerome, which held Olentangy to two points in the second half. 

Linebacker Gabe Powers is an Ohio State commit. 

“Our strength right now is (against) the run,” Thompson said. “We need to get better defending the pass, but we need to get better overall to keep this going.” 

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekDave

WEEK 6

OLENTANGY at MARYSVILLE

•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2

•Last meeting: 2017, Olentangy 21-14

•Olentangy (4-1 overall, 3-1 in OCC-Cardinal) to date: Defeated Olentangy Orange 7-3; def. Olentangy Berlin 45-33; def. Thomas Worthington 43-7; def. Hilliard Darby 37-6; lost to Dublin Jerome 27-16

•Marysville (4-1 overall, 3-1 in OCC-Cardinal) to date: Def. Hilliard Bradley 17-0; lost to Darby 31-28; def. Jerome 31-12; def. Thomas 31-0; def. Berlin 28-0

•Top Braves: Kaden Doup (QB), Jason Feasel (OL/DL), T.J. Gadd (OL/DL), Caleb Gossett (WR/DB), Ethan Hand (TE/DL), Landon Johnson (RB/LB), Jace Middleton (WR/LB) and Toby Wilson (OL)

•Top Monarchs: Michael Cogossi (OL), Lincoln Heard (OL/LB), Ryan Kern (RB/LB), Colby Kerns (OL/DL), Nick Kessler (TE/DL), Zach McMinn (DL), Gabe Powers (RB/LB) and Ashton Schmutz (QB/DB)