Football: Seniors used tight bond to propel Olentangy Liberty Patriots to success
For Mitch Fields and the rest of the Olentangy Liberty football team’s 30-member senior class, this season wrapped up a successful career that they had anticipated.
“We went undefeated as freshmen,” Fields said. “With the bond we have together, we knew we could be really good.”
After going 10-2 and reaching a Division I, Region 3 semifinal last season, the fourth-seeded Patriots reached the championship game in Region 2 where they lost 19-0 at third-seeded Springfield on Oct. 30 to finish 8-2.
Liberty’s only other loss was 24-17 to visiting Dublin Coffman on Sept. 4, a setback they avenged with an 18-15 victory over the Shamrocks on Oct. 24 in a regional semifinal.
Liberty finished second at 4-1 in the OCC-Central Division behind Coffman (5-0) and took a seven-game winning streak into the regional final.
“I thought our kids handled all the adversity incredibly well,” coach Steve Hale said. “These challenges had not been faced in the past. The kids had to respond to new issues all the time. The fact that they were able to do that and perform at such a high level was impressive. Reaching another regional championship game was a great honor for our program and this group of seniors.
“Their legacy at Liberty is very impressive. This group has been solid since they started. This senior class has stayed together over the years. These kids all came up through the program. Most of them were part of our program for six years. They developed a solid culture that was awesome to be a part of. They’ll be missed as the program moves forward.”
Fields will be one of the biggest losses after completing 152 of 229 passes for 1,635 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions and rushing for three scores in his only season as the starter.
He was first-team all-league along with seniors Aidan Kenley (RB), Dom Magistrale (WR/DB), Landon Smith (DL) and Brian Yamokoski (LB).
Kenley – who shared league Player of the Year honors with Coffman’s Bryon Threats – finished with 1,038 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on 190 carries, had 27 receptions for 295 yards and one score and averaged 30.6 yards on seven kickoff returns.
Magistrale finished with 29 receptions for 299 yards and four touchdowns, Yamokoski had 49 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions and Landon Smith finished with 37.5 tackles, including four for a loss.
Seniors Cam Barcus (WR) and Drew Thornton (DB) and juniors Chase Brecht (WR) and Carter Smith (OL) were second-team all-league, senior Josh Piela (DL) was special mention all-league and senior Carson Carrier (LB) was honorable mention all-league.
Barcus finished with 40 receptions for 341 yards and five touchdowns, Brecht had 30 catches for 475 yards and four touchdowns, Thornton had 69.5 tackles and Carrier had 44.5 tackles and two interceptions.
Other key seniors included Jacob Bonacci (DL/TE), Joseph Dierker (WR/DB), Stephen Dirksmeier (RB/LB), Parker Flinn (LB), Reid Follmer (DB), Mitchell Fuller (OL), Matthew Hale (WR), Ryan Repaski (OL), Tyler Rosselli (RB/WR/K) and Matthew Wrather (OL).
Hale finished with 22 receptions for 206 yards and two touchdowns, Dirksmeier had 33 catches, Follmer had 35 tackles and two interceptions, Dierker had two interceptions and Flinn had five tackles for loss and two sacks.
Rosselli made three field goals and 34 extra points.
Among those expected back are juniors Austin Bird (DB/P), Shane Flanagan (LB/RB), Dylan Graber (DL), Ben Huefner (OL) and Freddie Noday (LB) and sophomore Caden Minnitti (DB).
Minnitti finished with three interceptions and Noday had 36.5 tackles and two interceptions, while Bird averaged 36.8 yards on 10 punts.
“We have several players who contributed heavily returning to the roster next year,” coach Hale said. “I feel like there’s a good core group coming back. There will also be several players stepping in and playing for the first time.”
•Record: 8-2 overall
•OCC-Central standings: Dublin Coffman (5-0), Liberty (4-1), Orange (3-2), Upper Arlington (2-3), Hilliard Bradley (1-4), Hilliard Davidson (0-5)
•Seniors lost: Cam Barcus, Keaton Butler, Jacob Bonacci, Carson Carrier, Joseph Dierker, Stephen Dirksmeier, Jack Feeman, Mitch Fields, Parker Flinn, Reid Follmer, Mitchell Fuller, Matthew Hale, Tyler Hauenstein, Aidan Kenley, Adam Lane, Dom Magistrale, Michael Mileti, Josh Piela, Ryan Repasky, Tyler Rosselli, Luke Rush, Tyler Schapker, Joshua Slingsby, Landon Smith, Luke Tate, Drew Thornton, Steven Wenner, Matthew Wrather, Brian Yamokoski and Samuel Zabonik
•Key returnees: Austin Bird, Chase Brecht, Shane Flanagan, Dylan Graber, Ben Huefner, Caden Minniti, Freddie Noday and Carter Smith
•Postseason: Defeated Miamisburg 35-0; def. Kettering Fairmont 35-7; def. Coffman 18-15; lost to Springfield 19-0 in Division I, Region 2 final