From the perspective of first-year coach Bryan Schoonover, the Groveport Madison High School football team's performance in its finale against Reynoldsburg on Nov. 1 was a microcosm of the season.
The Cruisers limited Reynoldsburg to 81 total yards in the first half but allowed the Raiders to return a blocked punt 11 yards for a touchdown and trailed 9-6 at halftime. Reynoldsburg had 243 total yards in the second half and took advantage of six turnovers by the Cruisers to pull away in a 30-14 win.
Groveport, which struggled with consistency throughout the season, finished 1-9 overall for the second year in a row.
"That's the way things have been for us all season," Schoonover said. "We play well at times overall or we'll play good on defense but not offense or the other way around. We had trouble playing well in all three phases of the game for an entire game. We just lacked consistency or lacked execution.
"But we played well in spurts or for a half here or there and you could visualize what we could do if we could put things together, but we just never did it with any regularity."
Senior Mecca Swain, who saw time at quarterback and running back against the Raiders, scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter to tie the game at 6. Reynoldsburg scored the next 24 points, however, and held a 30-6 lead late in the fourth quarter before senior Tyren Jackson returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown and senior quarterback Austin Newman ran for the two-point conversion.
Jackson, who plays running back and defensive back, finished the game with a team-high 68 yards rushing on 17 carries.
"I thought Tyren Jackson had a good game on both sides of the football, (junior wide receiver) Markel Davis played well and (junior) Jacob Dalton had a good game on the defensive line," Schoonover said. "The problem was the turnovers that left our defense on the field way too long."
Groveport went 1-6 in the OCC-Ohio Division to tie Newark for seventh, behind co-champions Pickerington Central and Pickerington North (both 6-1), Grove City (5-2), Gahanna (3-4), Lancaster (3-4) and Reynoldsburg (3-4).
The Cruisers' lone victory came on the road against Newark, 52-35 on Oct. 11, when four seniors rushed for more than 100 yards and scored two touchdowns apiece. Groveport totaled 564 yards, all of which came on the ground.
Swain led the Cruisers' running game against Newark with 185 yards on 12 carries, followed by junior fullback D'Lante Smith (124 yards on 16 carries), senior wingback Tristen Gabriel (119 yards on 9 carries) and Jackson (106 yards on 10 carries).
Victory was within Groveport's reach in three other games, as it lost to Licking Heights (7-0 on Sept. 13), Gahanna (20-13 on Sept. 20) and Lancaster (20-14 on Oct. 4) by seven points or fewer.
"We had 16 seniors and I appreciated all their hard work and the way they bought into having a new coaching staff and a new system," Schoonover said. "They're good kids and they worked their butts off to try to turn this thing around. What they did is lead the way and show the younger kids how to work hard. When we are fortunate enough to turn things around record-wise, they'll be the class that says, 'It began with us.' They did everything we asked them to do."
Schoonover expects Davis, Smith, juniors Derrell Gibbs (QB), Wesley Fearing (TE), Jordan Garrettson (FB) and Malcolm Solack (OL) and sophomore Marshall Buck (OL) to be key contributors on offense next year.
Solack (center) and Buck (tackle) were starters on the offensive line along with seniors Cameron Oshodi (guard), Matt Perdue (tackle) and Kevin Schrader (guard).
"Fearing has a tremendous upside because he's got great hands and Smith and Garrettson should have big seasons," he said. "We know Markel Davis offers a great deal for us and we think Gibbs did a good job and will be even better next year."
Among the players expected to play key roles on the Cruisers' 4-3 base defense next year are Dalton and junior Philip Austin on the line, junior Daquan Mayle at linebacker and junior Kurt Rogers in the secondary.
"Defensively, we rotated six or seven guys up front and all but (senior) Alex Hoyt will be back," Schoonover said. "But we will miss (senior) De'Shawn Sowell at linebacker and our entire secondary (in Jackson and seniors Dayrel Billingsley, Raymel Medley and Keilyn Williamson)."
Schoonover said he doesn't anticipate making any major changes to the Cruisers' style of play next season.
"We're going to stay true to ourselves and stick with the plan," he said. "We're going to be a triple-option offense and a patient, low-risk defense that forces opponents to have to drive the ball. We're going to continue to prepare our players for that. Things didn't go the way we wanted record-wise, but we're not going to panic and make changes.
"The big push we'll have in the offseason is getting our kids into the weight room and being serious about improving our strength. Hands down, we've got to get them to put on healthy weight and build strength."