Olentangy Liberty at Springfield: Wildcats present ‘another huge challenge’ for Patriots
During its run to three consecutive Division I, Region 2 championships from 2016-18, Olentangy Liberty made it through a playoff slate that included a mix of teams from central Ohio and either the Northwest or Northeast district.
The Patriots have a shot at winning another Region 2 title Friday, Oct. 30, after losing in a Region 3 semifinal last season, but this time their opponent comes from southwest Ohio and is the defending regional champion.
Third-seeded Springfield will play host to fourth-seeded Liberty in the first meeting between the programs, with the winner advancing to a state semifinal Nov. 6.
“I think we’ll be OK and I think we’ll be really focused,” Patriots coach Steve Hale said. “Once they take a look at Springfield on film, the reality is going to set in that this is going to be an incredibly talented football team that we’re going to be going against. They’re huge and they’re talented.
“Last year they won the region. Two years ago we won it, but they’re defending champs and it’s not like we’re going to a neutral site. We’ve got to go to Springfield to play these guys. … This is going to be another huge challenge.”
The Patriots twice played the best team on their schedule to date in Dublin Coffman and earned a split.
After losing 24-17 to the Shamrocks on Sept. 4, Liberty beat top-seeded Coffman 18-15 on Oct. 24 in a regional semifinal to improve to 8-1.
The Patriots’ Josh Piela recovered a fumbled exchange between Coffman quarterback Connor Mathews and running back Bryon Threats at the Liberty 16-yard line with 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory.
Springfield began last week preparing to face the only opponent it had lost to, Clayton Northmont, but the Thunderbolts canceled the game after one of their players tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Northmont was the second seed and was 8-0, including a 38-35 overtime win over the Wildcats on Sept. 18.
Springfield, which has won four in a row since its only loss to move to 7-1, beat Coffman 7-3 for the Region 2 title a year ago and finished 12-2.
Liberty has controlled most of its opponents with a strong running game but found a way to beat the Shamrocks despite being held to 63 yards on the ground in their rematch.
Senior running back Aidan Kenley was limited to 57 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries but had his best receiving game of the year, finishing with 11 catches for 119 yard and one touchdown.
Kenley has rushed for 1,017 yards and 17 touchdowns on 181 carries on the season.
Senior quarterback Mitch Fields completed 28 of 35 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against Coffman and is 143-for-201 for 1,580 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Seniors Cam Barcus (38 receptions for 339 yards, 5 TDs) and Dom Magistrale (28 receptions for 287 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Chase Brecht (29 receptions for 464 yards, 4 TDs) have been the top wide receivers for the Patriots.
Springfield’s offense revolves around senior quarterback Te’Sean Smoot, who has completed 109 of 182 passes for 1,725 yards with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also leads the Wildcats in rushing with 473 yards and eight touchdowns on 87 carries.
Senior Ben Van Noord (21 receptions for 389 yards, 5 TDs) and sophomores Anthony Brown (29 receptions for 594 yards, 7 TDs) and Shawn Thigpen (15 receptions for 230 yards, 3 TDs) are Smoot’s top targets at wide receiver.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Jaivian Norman (67 tackles, 2 forced fumbles), junior lineman Tywan January (57 tackles) and junior back Delian Bradley (4 interceptions) have led the way.
The Wildcats compete in the Greater Western Ohio Conference along with Northmont as well as Miamisburg and Kettering Fairmont. Liberty opened the postseason by beating Miamisburg 35-0 on Oct. 9 and Fairmont 35-7 on Oct. 16.
“We’ve played GWOC teams before, so we’re familiar with the league and we’ll put the best plan we can together and see if we can win another regional title,” Hale said.
OLENTANGY LIBERTY at SPRINGFIELD
•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30
•Last meeting: First meeting
•Liberty (8-1) to date: Defeated Olentangy Berlin 35-21; lost to Dublin Coffman 24-17; def. Upper Arlington 21-14; def. Hilliard Bradley 38-17; def. Hilliard Davidson 45-7; def. Olentangy Orange 42-21; def. Miamisburg 35-0; def. Kettering Fairmont 35-7; def. Coffman 18-15
•Springfield (7-1) to date: Def. Huber Heights Wayne 21-14; def. Centerville 31-24 (OT); def. Fairmont 27-21; lost to Clayton Northmont 38-35 (OT); def. Springboro 41-0; def. Beavercreek 76-0; def. Toledo Whitmer 27-17; def. Wayne 31-19
•Top Patriots: Cam Barcus (WR), Chase Brecht (WR), Mitch Fields (QB), Aidan Kenley (RB), Dom Magistrale (WR), Caden Minnitti (DB), Drew Thornton (DB), Matthew Wrather (OL) and Brian Yamokoski (LB/LS)
•Top Wildcats: Tyron Barnes (RB/DB), Delian Bradley (DB), Anthony Brown (WR/DB), Kendal Dolby (DB), Tywan January (DL), Jaivian Norman (LB), Fate Smith (LB), Te’Sean Smoot (QB) and Ben Van Noord (WR)