FOSTORIA, Ohio — When Alex Okuley saw a touchdown pass from Andrew Leonard late in the fourth quarter, the only thing on his mind right now was finding a way to win the game.
Okuley’s touchdown grab with 2:27 minutes remaining did just that as eighth-seeded Olentangy Liberty advanced to the Division I, Region Finals next week with a 14-3 win over fourth-seeded Perrysburg Yellow Jackets on Friday at Fostoria Memorial Stadium 2 advanced.
Leonard threw two touchdown passes on the night to lead Liberty, and the Patriots defense held Perrysburg with just one field goal in a feat that was nothing short of a grind.
Liberty forced a Perrysburg punt on the game’s opening drive, but couldn’t muster a first down before sending his own punt team.
However, Okuley’s evening started poorly after knocking the punt off the side of his foot and the ball traveling just 16 yards before rolling out of play at Liberty 47 to place Perrysburg in prime field position to start his second drive.
A 20-yard completion by Perrysburg quarterback TJ Takats to Gavin Fenneken in the second game of the drive got Perrysburg moving quickly near the Liberty 30, and six games later Perrysburg knocked on the door with a first down at the Liberty 6.
However, Takats was intercepted by Okuley in the end zone after forcing a late throw and Liberty thwarted Perrysburg’s scoring chance.
It only took Liberty three plays on the ensuing drive to hit first. Leonard found Evan Nelson for a 68-yard touchdown to end a three-game scoring drive and gave Liberty a 7-0 lead with 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Perrysburg seemed poised to level the score midway through the second quarter with a 12-play drive that carried the ball to the Liberty 13. 3 lead at half-time.
Perrysburg dominated possession time in the first half, holding the ball for almost 26 minutes while Liberty was on the field for less than six minutes. But Liberty had the advantage where it mattered most and would never give it up in a physical second half when both teams’ playing times are at stake.
The Liberty defense rose again for the opportunity to start the second half after their offense went three and on the opening thrust of the third quarter. Perrysburg drove to the Liberty 22 but again had to settle for a field goal attempt, but Bibb never got the push this time.
A poor snap forced the Perrysburg holder to scramble before eventually running over the limits just short of the line to win, handing the ball back to Liberty early in the fourth quarter.
The Liberty offense, still clinging to a 7-3 lead, was back on the field and set to work on a season-defining drive that started at their own 27.
Leonard started the drive with completions to Nelson and Wilson Roberts for a total of 12 yards before the Liberty running game finally showed some life. Five consecutive carries by Ryan Schapker netted 25 yards, and Liberty was in business at the Perrysburg 36.
A false start threatened to stall the ride before a big win by Schapker in third placed Liberty with a 4th and 4th place finish at the Perrysburg 25.
With the game getting very late, Leonard and the Liberty Offensive stayed on the field and it put on a great performance.
Okuley staggered Leonard’s pass at the 6-yard line before immediately making contact with a Perrysburg defender. Okuley shrugged and fell into the endzone, sending the Liberty sideline and crowd into chaos as Liberty increased their lead to 14-3 with just 2:27 left.
A final attempt by Perrysburg was thwarted when Liberty’s Nicco Sciulli redeemed a fumble to send Leonard and the offense back onto the field in winning formation and on to the regional finals.
“This team has been through a lot,” said Liberty coach Steve Hale after the win. “(We were) 0-3 with the possibility of not even having a winning season. I can’t say enough about these kids and what they went through and how they struggled through, how they survived. I’m just so proud of them, I’m so proud of our coaching staff and everyone.”
Hale acknowledged the strength of Perrysburg’s program, adding, “That’s what you expect in the third round of the playoffs and we’re just very lucky to be ahead.”
With the win, Olentangy Liberty advances to face the top-seeded Springfield Wildcats in a rematch of the 2020 Division I Region 2 Finals. Springfield won that game 19-0.
Olentangy Liberty’s Alex Okuley (2) finds room to walk in Friday’s Division I regional semifinals against Perrysburg.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.