Delaware battles Berlin in fight for playoff lives

The Pacers and Bears square off for a clash in the postseason.

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Alec Ostapuck

Head coach Ryan Montgomery talks with junior wide receiver Austin Koslow

Carter Sims, Staff Writer

It’s fall, 1964. The Beatles top the charts with “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, while the newly released Mary Poppins sells 100 million tickets. Some footwear company named Blue Ribbon Sports is starting up, and in Delaware, Rutherford B Hayes High School has just opened. 

Though a year after the opening of Buckeye Valley High School and several after Olentangy High School, Hayes would become one of the older high schools as Olentangy Orange and Liberty opened decades later.

Cut to 2018, where Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” is trending and Black Panther has racked up 700 million dollars at the box office. Blue Ribbon Sports (or as they’re known by most, Nike) has the best-selling shoes in the “Nike Tajaun ” and “Nike Air Max,” and Olentangy Berlin High School has opened its doors for the inaugural school year.

Fast forward to the current day, where Taylor Swift’s “Midnights‘ ‘ album is atop Spotify’s most popular songs, Black Adam is the most popular movie in theaters, the Nike Dunk Low has become a highly sought-after buy, and football is in the autumn air.

Separated by 54 years but only a 15-minute drive, the Pacers and Bears have built up a young rivalry in various athletic competitions in a short amount of time. It all comes to a head Friday night, when Delaware Hayes and Olentangy Berlin fight for survival in the OHSAA football playoffs.

The Pacers appeared in the playoffs last year as well, but didn’t come away with the victory. In fact, Hayes hasn’t won a playoff game in any other year either.

However, this hasn’t been “any other year” for Delaware Hayes football. 

Following last year’s playoff loss to Marysville, head coach Scott Wetzel stepped down from the position. Former defensive coordinator Ryan Montgomery was hired for the role, and a shift began.

Montgomery (or “Monty” as he affectionately called around Hayes) has helped the Pacers flip the script, turning last year’s 3-7 record to 7-3 during the regular season. This is the best record for Hayes in decades, but the year has been historic outside the win total as well.

On the offensive side of the ball, junior receiver Austin Koslow passed the 1,000 receiving yard mark against Franklin Heights on October 21, becoming the first Delaware receiver to do so in decades. 

“It felt like a dream, like everything I had gone through and worked for was all for a milestone like that,” Koslow said. “That’s something you dream of as a little kid, and getting to actually live that moment was something I’ll never forget. I just thank my teammates, Coach Monty, Coach Fort, and Travis, our strength coach for helping me get there.”

Koslow (who has 42 catches for 1,027 yards and 11 touchdowns) has become a top target for junior quarterback Jake Lowman, who has 2,261 passing yards and 21 touchdowns for the season.

The two have a shared connection in Cardale Jones, a former quarterback at The Ohio State University. Jones is co-founder and owner of Plus 2 University, a training facility in Columbus that Koslow and Lowman attend. 

“Cardale is a coach and friend,” Koslow said. “He has really prepared me mentally for games, things like how to read the defense and figure out their weak spots.

The passing game for Delaware has also featured seniors Kaden Gannon (34 catches, 509 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Wyatt Kirkland (26 catches, 336 yards, 5 touchdowns) as well as junior Jaliq Wilson (21 catches, 262 yards). 

The Pacers have also seen production in a shared backfield, with junior Josh Russell (77 carries, 337 yards, 4 TDs) and senior Sawyer Sand (61 carries, 362 yards, 7 TDs) spearheading the Pacer rushing attack, with junior Gavin Brinkmoller receiving carries as well.

“It’s been nice because Sawyer’s a cool dude and Gavin’s a cool dude,” Russell said. “But it’s always competitive every day.”

On the defensive side, Delaware has had success, too. Junior linebacker Logan Frye recorded 115 tackles in the regular season, breaking Ethan Tucky’s record for most in a season at Hayes.

“It was a huge accomplishment and a huge honor to be able to say I am holding that record now, but I don’t think it has truly hit me yet that I broke it,” Frye said. “Coach Tucky has helped me grow so much as a player these past 2 seasons and I owe so much to him for that. It just made it so much more special to me that he was the one holding the record before me.” 

Frye hasn’t been alone on the defense, with fellow linebackers Lucas Dotson (55 tackles and 2 interceptions) and Sawyer Sand (70 tackles) contributing to the unit. Defensive lineman Dalton Allen also has 40 tackles and 5 sacks, and defensive backs Nikeese McCullom and Aiden Pili combined for 70 tackles and 11 interceptions.

The Pacers meet a Berlin team coming with a 7-3 record and a first-ever league title, winning the OCC-Cardinal. With the history, proximity, and importance piled into this game, the stage hasn’t been lost on the Pacers.

This week has especially had an extra charge of energy around us because this could very well be our last game if we don’t execute the way we want to and are capable of,” Frye said. “None of us are ready to say goodbye to this season yet, so we are all working as hard as we can to make history for the Delaware Hayes Football program.”

Montgomery respects the challenge the Bears present, but thinks the Pacers have experience in tough games that will help them in this matchup being dubbed “The Battle of Delaware.”

“Berlin is a solid football team,” Montgomery said. “They run the ball well and use good RPO reads. Defensively they are sound and fly to the football.  I really like our skill players and the way we play up front, being a tough and nasty group.”

Although it’s the postseason, Russell said he wants the Pacers to embody the same identity they’ve carried all season.

“Monty talks about it all the time, but we’ll need to play fast and play physical to beat Berlin,” Russell said. “We were ready to match up against anyone, and Berlin’s just the team we have to go out and beat.”

This sentiment about the Pacers’ identity is exactly what Montgomery said he wants to see from the Black and Orange during this clash in the 740.

“The number one pillar of our program is to play fast and play physical,” Montgomery said. “That is what we plan to do on Friday night.”