Olentangy Liberty: Focusing on present sparked Patriots' latest run
The idea that each season is a unique journey felt particularly accurate to Olentangy Liberty football player Brian Yamokoski this fall.
There’s no clear-cut reason, according to the senior middle linebacker, why the Patriots have put together a five-year run in which they’ve either won 10 games or played for a regional championship.
“Our team just gets after it week by week,” Yamokoski said. “To start the year, (defensive coordinator Ed) Miley talked about building on every practice, so you build on the last practice and I think this team took that to heart. Coach (Steve) Hale always preaches one thing, and that this group has never done this before and will never be able to do this again and that you never know if this can be your last week, so we just kind of work based on that.”
The Patriots won three consecutive Division I, Region 2 titles from 2016-18 before losing in state semifinals and then lost in a Region 3 semifinal last season while going 10-2.
With an 18-15 upset of top-seeded Dublin Coffman on Oct. 24 in a Region 2 semifinal, fourth-seeded Liberty advanced to the regional championship game, where it lost 19-0 on Oct. 30 at third-seeded Springfield to finish 8-2.
The Patriots had won seven in a row before playing Springfield, with their only loss coming 24-17 to Coffman on Sept. 4.
“We came into camp and thought we had a really talented team,” senior quarterback Mitch Fields said.
Liberty had some of its best defensive moments of the season during the playoffs.
After defeating 13th-seeded Miamisburg 35-0 on Oct. 9, the Patriots beat 12th-seeded Kettering Fairmont 35-7 on Oct. 16 in a regional quarterfinal.
Then against Coffman, sophomore cornerback Caden Minniti had two interceptions and junior linebacker Freddie Noday had another to help the defense limit the Shamrocks to 220 yards of offense.
Minniti was injured against Coffman, moving senior Dom Magistrale into a bigger role for the Springfield game. The secondary also included senior Drew Thornton at strong safety and senior Reid Follmer at cornerback.
Yamokoski and Noday were joined at linebacker by seniors Carson Carrier and Adam Lane and junior Shane Flanagan.
“Freddie Noday came up with a big interception in a key situation (in the win over Coffman) and our defensive line was blitzing them and putting pressure on the quarterback,” Hale said. “The interceptions by Minniti kind of get overlooked, but he’s a young sophomore corner and is just unbelievable.”
Last season, 2020 graduates Corbin Parrish and Jackson Roberts combined for about 2,000 yards passing while Fields attempted one pass in limited duty.
Fields finished with about 1,600 yards passing and 16 touchdowns, with seniors Cam Barcus, Matt Hale and Magistrale and junior Chase Brecht all proving to be capable at wide receiver.
Having a healthy Aidan Kenley at running back after he battled injuries last fall also helped, as did the Patriots' depth on the offensive line with senior Matthew Wrather at center, senior Ryan Repasky at right guard, junior Carter Smith at right tackle, junior Ben Huefner and senior Michael Mileti at left guard and senior Mitch Fuller at left tackle.
“It’s been a humbling experience for me, being in a leadership position, and it’s been a good experience,” Fields said. “I really like being around the guys. I feel like we’ve really progressed since the first week and our offensive line has done a tremendous job blocking up front.
“We have some of the best coaches in the state of Ohio. Coach Hale simply says, ‘How much do we care about each other and about this team?’ We go in with that mentality and lay it out on the line for each other.”