Olentangy Berlin: Bears built confidence in third season

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Berlin senior wide receiver Ryan Horstman was one of senior quarterback Jacob Moeller's favorite targets, making 28 catches for 455 yards and four touchdowns. The Bears finished 5-4 after earning their first two playoff victories.

Bennett Lawrence saw a spark that he had not seen before in his teammates on the Olentangy Berlin football team.

In a Division II, Region 7 second-round playoff game Oct. 16, the 11th-seeded Bears walked on the field at sixth-seeded Wooster as underdogs but the players didn’t have that mindset.

Lawrence, a junior, saw a fire in the eyes of his teammates. They went on to defeat the Generals 48-40 and forge ahead into a regional quarterfinal, where the Bears lost 56-29 at third-seeded Westerville South on Oct. 23 to finish 5-4 overall.

“I thought we showed a lot of growth and we had confidence in being able to play, especially against Wooster,” said Lawrence, a wide receiver and linebacker. “In the first two seasons, I don’t think we were able to come out and punch teams in the mouth. We were able to show that against Wooster.”

Berlin, a third-year program, had a winning record for a second consecutive season. The Bears not only earned their first playoff victory — a 47-7 win at home over 22nd-seeded Whitehall on Oct. 9 — but also picked up a second against Wooster.

“A couple of things are starting to fall into place,” said coach Mark Nori, whose team tied Hilliard Darby and Olentangy for second (3-2) in the OCC-Cardinal Division behind Marysville (4-1). “The players understand what we expect, and we know who they are as kids. The foundation is starting to take hold.

“The big word in Ohio high school football is playoffs, and to win a playoff game is quite an accomplishment. To win two is great. I think that we continued to develop elements of a program, and we’re going to strive to get better each year.”

The Bears were led by senior quarterback Jacob Moeller, a third-year starter. He was 174-for-286 passing for 2,823 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions and was named first-team all-district and league Player of the Year.

“Last year, Jacob had 1,800 yards and missed two of our 11 games because of an injury,” Nori said. “This year he had almost 2,900 yards in our nine games, so he really improved his game.”

Senior Justin Rader was first-team all-district as a kicker, going 9-for-11 on field goals and 28-for-30 on extra points. He was second-team all-league and also played wide receiver (31 catches, 516 yards, 6 touchdowns) and defensive back (31 tackles, 3 interceptions).

Seniors Antonio Alonso (second-team all-district, first-team all-league) and Cole Troyer (first-team all-district and all-league) anchored the offensive line. Senior wide receivers Ryan Horstman (28 catches, 455 yards, 4 TDs) and Aidan Loeffler (honorable mention all-league; 26 catches, 346 yards, 4 TDs) were key targets for Moeller.

Senior linebacker Liam McGreevey had 32.5 tackles and three sacks, and defensive lineman Aiden Cain had 25 tackles, including four for loss.

“I think (the seniors) taught us to play within ourselves and not worry about who we’re up against,” Lawerence said. “Usually we weren’t bigger than our competition, but we played as a team and that helped a lot.”

Lawrence was a standout on both sides of the ball, earning first-team all-district and all-league honors. As a wide receiver, he had 52 receptions for 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns. At linebacker, he had a team-high 58 tackles with two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

Junior defensive lineman Austin Burchinal (14.5 tackles, 2 sacks) and junior offensive lineman Bryce Young were second-team all-league. 

Junior running back Nick Tiberio (special mention all-district, second-team all-league) rushed for 700 yards and six touchdowns on 155 carries. As a linebacker, he forced three fumbles and recovered four.

Junior offensive lineman Jon Harder was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league. Junior Ethan Lee (special mention all-league) was like an extra lineman at fullback and had 24.5 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and two sacks as a linebacker.

Junior backup quarterback Dylan Reyes missed the season with a knee injury, and junior running back Gavin Angell had 29 carries for 192 yards and two touchdowns and 19 tackles as a linebacker.

Sophomore linebackers Kyle Jackowski and J.T. Tompkins had 22 and 19 tackles, respectively.

“Lawrence, Young and Harder are the elder statesmen and we have some other guys spread all out,” Nori said. “We have a couple promising linemen that haven’t played a lot, and we were extremely young this year on defense. We took our lumps but we can mature and get better from it.

“It was a weird season. I hope we did as much as we could in nine games to get our guys ready for next year."

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Record: 5-4 overall

OCC-Cardinal standings: Marysville (4-1), Berlin, Hilliard Darby and Olentangy (all 3-2), Dublin Jerome (2-3), Thomas Worthington (0-5)

Seniors lost: Gagan Abadala, Antonio Alonso, Aiden Cain, Andrew Cline, Ryan Horstman, Aidan Loeffler, Liam McGreevey, Evariste Misseou, Jacob Moeller, Justin Rader, Brandon Richardson, Kyle Scolio and Cole Troyer

Key returnees: Gavin Angell, Austin Burchinal, Jon Harder, Kyle Jackowski, Bennett Lawrence, Ethan Lee, Dylan Reyes, Nick Tiberio, J.T. Tompkins and Bryce Young 

Postseason: Defeated Whitehall 47-7; def. Wooster 48-40; lost to Westerville South 56-29 in Division II, Region 7 quarterfinal