Football: Close playoff loss doesn't diminish season's success for Olentangy Braves

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Olentangy's Caleb Gossett dives for extra yards Oct. 23 against Worthington Kilbourne. Gossett, one of the team's 17 seniors,  had 31 catches for 382 yards and three scores and added 58 tackles and four interceptions on defense.

Minutes after his team lost 14-10 to host Massillon Perry in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal, Olentangy football coach Mark Solis managed to put aside some of his disappointment and think about the big picture of this season. 

“The bottom line is everybody won because we got to play football,” Solis said. “I’m thankful we got the opportunity. We didn’t know whether we were going to have a chance to play. We finished the season 6-3, but as far as I’m concerned we finished 9-0 because we got to play nine football games. This is a tremendous platform to teach young men what it’s going to take to be successful in life. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true.

“The process is all to get ready to play one game a week. We practice more than we play. The fact that we had the chance to go through all that, I’m happy for our kids and blessed that we got to do it. Whatever it took, we were willing to do it.” 

The fourth-seeded Braves made the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year and reached at least a regional semifinal for the fifth time in Solis’ eight seasons. They dominated the second half against top-seeded Perry, running 40 plays to the Panthers’ 12 but came up scoreless despite twice advancing to the 9-yard line. 

Senior quarterback Kaden Doup’s pass to senior wide receiver Jace Middleton on the right side of the end zone as time expired was knocked away. 

Olentangy had advanced by winning two lopsided home games, 47-0 over 13th-seeded Licking Heights in the second round Oct. 16, and 35-13 over 12th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in a quarterfinal Oct. 23. 

The Braves thrived on a balanced offense that amassed 1,512 yards rushing and 1,477 through the air, and they also were plus-10 in turnovers as the defense forced 16. 

Doup completed 114 of 163 passes for 1,462 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Middleton, an Ohio State baseball commit, caught 34 passes for 464 yards and five scores, and senior Caleb Gossett had 31 catches for 382 yards and three scores. 

Senior running back Landon Johnson rushed for 541 yards and eight touchdowns on 93 carries, caught six passes for 105 yards and a score and led the defense with 82 tackles. 

Gossett added 58 tackles and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, at defensive back. 

The Braves started 4-0, with wins at Orange (7-3 on Aug. 28), at home against Berlin (45-33 on Sept. 4) to open OCC-Cardinal Division play and on the road at Thomas Worthington (43-7 on Sept. 11) and Hilliard Darby (37-6 on Sept. 18). 

Olentangy lost its final two regular-season games, at home against Dublin Jerome (27-16 on Sept. 25) and at Marysville (28-7 on Oct. 2) to decide the league championship. 

Seniors Gossett, Ethan Hand (TE/DL), Johnson, Middleton and Nathan Rudawsky (OL/DL) all were first-team all-league. Doup and classmates Jason Feasel (OL/DL), Brady Ramsey (TE/LB) and Toby Wilson (OL) were second-team all-league, senior T.J. Gadd (OL) was special mention all-league and senior Ethan Wise (OL/DL) was named honorable mention all-league. 

Other contributors eligible to return include juniors Dubby Agudosi (WR/DB, nine catches, 87 yards), Hayden Olcott (K) and Malik Wade (RB/DB, 55 carries, 323 yards, one TD). 

Olcott made 26 of 27 extra points and three of four field goals. 

“We’ll take a little bit of time off and then get back in the weight room,” Solis said. “We’re building a program. We have some tradition. I’m not going anywhere. We’ll all take some time away and get excited for next year.” 

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekDave 

•Record: 6-3 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: Anthony DiMarzo, Kaden Doup, Jason Feasel, T.J. Gadd, Caleb Gossett, Ethan Hand, Landon Johnson, Sam Kaylor, Daniel Kelly, Landon McElroy, Jace Middleton, Brady Ramsey, Nathan Rudawsky, Jordan Wilkerson, Ethan Wise, Toby Wilson and Garret Zeune 

•Key returnees: Dubby Agudosi, Hayden Olcott and Malik Wade