Springfield to face Olentangy Liberty in regional final for second time in three years

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield High School football team will face a familiar opponent with a trip to the state semifinals on the line.

The Wildcats (11-1) will play Olentangy Liberty (8-5) in the Division I, Region 2 final at 7 p.m. Friday at London’s Bowlus Field.

The winner will advance to play either Lakota West or Cincinnati Moeller in the D-I state semifinals at 7 p.m Friday, Nov. 25 at Piqua Alexander Stadium, the OHSAA announced Thursday morning.

The Wildcats will face the Patriots in the regional final for the second time in three years. In 2020, Springfield beat Liberty 19-0 to advance to their second straight state semifinal. Several of Springfield’s key players — including senior linebacker Jaivian Norman and wide receiver Anthony Brown — saw action in the game.

Springfield has won seven straight games since falling to Fairmont in Week 6. While the stakes keep getting bigger and bigger each week, the Wildcats have to remember to simply do your job, said Springfield coach Maurice Douglass.

“Sometimes when kids haven’t been there, they try to do things they don’t normally do,” Douglass said. “So my thing is just play your own game, do what you normally do from your role’s standpoint. As Bill Belichick said, ‘Do your job’.”

The Wildcats understand each game could be their last, Norman said, and won’t leave anything on the field.

“You’ve just got to go into it as another game,” he said. “Every play, you have to give your best effort. The coaches always say they can’t control our effort and that’s absolutely right. It’s up to the players every week.”

The Patriots started the season 0-3 against a tough schedule that included Pickerington Central, Cincinnati St. Xavier and Cleveland Glenville. Liberty has won eight of its last 10 games, including a victory Region 3 finalist New Albany.

The Patriots run a spread offense that features sophomore quarterback Andrew Leonard (2,429 yards, 19 touchdowns) and senior wide receiver Alex Okuley (67 catches, 919 yards, 9 TDs). Sophomore Ryan Schapker (288 yards, 2 TDs) is filling in for the injured Jack Struck (738 yards, 7 TDs) as the team’s featured running back.

“They’re going to present a challenge,” Douglass said.

The key will be playing a clean football game in all three phases, he said.

“We’re going to have to be real sound in all of our special teams, offensively and defensively, not turning the ball over and not having a bunch of crazy penalties,” Douglass said. “We’ve gotta play physical and fly to the ball.”

Both teams will also have to contend with a forecast that shows below-freezing temperatures in London.

“It’s going to be cold for both teams and it’s going to be cold throughout the state of Ohio,” Douglass said. “We don’t have the luxury of being an NFL team and flying to Florida to play in the Super Bowl. It’s Ohio football. It’s going to be a little colder, we’ll bundle up and let those sideline heaters get to work. When you’re on the field, make plays while you’re out there.”

While the season is nearing its final weeks, the Wildcats aren’t ready to stop playing, especially a senior class seeking to win the first state championship in Clark County history.

“For some of those guys, this is it,” Douglass said. “They won’t play football after this season is over. I think it’s getting realer and realer, but I’m excited for them. I think they’re excited about the opportunity to be able to finish something that they started when they got into high school when they came to Springfield. I’m just excited for those guys.”

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