The Big Walnut High School football team would like an opportunity to defend its Division III state championship.

First, though, the Golden Eagles must qualify for the playoffs. They did their part in their regular-season finale last Friday, defeating visiting Franklin Heights 48-7 to secure the outright OCC-Capital Division championship. Whether the victory was enough to get them in the playoffs was not immediately known, however.

"Just to get a shot in the playoffs would be outstanding, especially after starting off 1-2," said coach Scott Wetzel, whose team improved to 8-2 overall with its seventh win in a row and finished 6-0 in the OCC-Capital. "A lot of people wrote us off, and our kids responded real well. Seven wins in a row is outstanding."
Big Walnut was eighth in the Region 10 computer ratings entering play last Friday. The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs.

It was possible for the ninth team in the region, Tiffin Columbian (14.5455), to pass Big Walnut in the computer standings, thus knocking the Golden Eagles out of a playoff spot. But defending on the outcome of several games, it also was possible for Big Walnut to vault to fourth, which would give the Golden Eagles a home game in the first round Saturday.

"We can finish anywhere from fourth (in the region), which would be highly unlikely, to ninth," Wetzel said. "I think we're somewhere between fifth and eighth, probably sixth or seventh. But we just don't know right now."

The OHSAA will announce the playoff pairings today. If Big Walnut gets in, it would mark the Golden Eagles' third consecutive playoff appearance and their sixth playoff appearance during Wetzel's 11-year tenure.

Big Walnut earned its first state title last season, defeating Licking Valley 17-10 in the championship game.

"It would be nice to sneak into the playoffs under the radar and show teams what we're made of and put a nice little run together," wide receiver and safety Nick Heiden said. "It's just nice to be in the playoffs."

Big Walnut's OCC-Capital championship is its third in a row and sixth in the last eight seasons. Its only other outright titles were in 2001 and 2003.

"Being undefeated in the league is a good feeling," Wetzel said. "We set the goal of winning the league at the beginning of the year. It's a big deal to us."

Big Walnut, which extended its winning streak against Franklin Heights to nine games, too the early lead as Seth Dunn returned the opening kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown.

The Golden Eagles scored on their first possession, capping a 59-yard, six-play drive with a 3-yard run by fullback Buddy Carrel, to go ahead 14-0 and reached the end zone three times in the second quarter to take a 34-0 lead into halftime. They scored on four of their five possessions of the first half.

Scoring in the second quarter were running back Patrick Daugherty on a 20-yard run, quarterback Jordan DeWitt on a 1-yard run and wide receiver Bret Myers on a 14-yard pass from DeWitt.

"We knew we had to pounce on them early and play a good game, and we did that," Heiden said.

Big Walnut extended its lead to 41-0 on its first possession of the second half, capping an 88-yard, 12-play drive with a 5-yard run by Dunn. The drive was kept alive by a roughing the punter penalty on Franklin Heights.

The Falcons, who finished 5-5 and 2-4, scored late in the third quarter on a 28-yard pass from quarterback Emanuel Jones to running back Rico Jackson. The Golden Eagles closed out the scoring late in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Will Hernandez.

Big Walnut amassed 360 total yards, including 286 yards rushing. Running back Cody Leitner rushed for 75 yards on 11 carries and Carrel ran for 75 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
DeWitt completed five of six passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Franklin Heights was held to 128 total yards, including 38 in the first half. The Falcons turned the ball over three times. Heiden and linebacker Mitchell Daily recovered fumbles and linebacker Will Studlien had an
interception.

FRANKLIN HEIGHTS 0 0 7 0 _ 7
BIG WALNUT 14 20 7 7 - 48
BW-Dunn 76 kickoff return (Fleak kick)
BW-Carrel 3 run (Fleak kick)
BW-Daugherty 20 run (Fleak kick)
BW-DeWitt 1 run (kick failed)
BW-Myers 14 pass from DeWitt (Fleak kick)
BW-Dunn 5 run (Fleak kick)
FH-Jackson 28 pass from Jones (Thompson kick)
BW-Hernandez 1 run (Fleak kick)