The past three months, Big Walnut High School football coach Joe Weaver watched his players put in a solid effort practice after practice, game after game.
Finally, in week nine, the Golden Eagles' hard work was rewarded.
Big Walnut posted its first win Oct. 25 by defeating host Olentangy Orange 17-0 in an OCC-Capital Division game. The Golden Eagles were 1-8 overall and 1-5 in the league before closing the season Nov. 1 at home against Franklin Heights.
"The thing about these guys that I have to give credit to is no matter wins or losses or whatever the season gives us, they're a never-say-die team," Weaver said. "They're going to go out and play and play hard. When they come off the field, they're exhausted.
"It felt good for the kids to get what they deserve. The monkey is off our back now a little bit. The kids are able to relax and enjoy playing without that negative cloud hanging over (them)."
Big Walnut scored all of its points in the first half. Sophomore running back Blake Marioth scored on a 17-yard run and sophomore quarterback Jordan Wall connected with senior running back Cody Conley on a 23-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and sophomore kicker Tommy Fleser had a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Wall completed 11 of 19 passes for 231 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Conner Fry led the team with five catches for 153 yards and junior wide receiver Chase LaVeer had four receptions for 39 yards.
Big Walnut's defense forced three turnovers, as linebackers Alec Eisnnicher and Cole Stark and Conley, who plays in the secondary, each had an interception.
"I've got to give (Orange) credit," Weaver said. "They came out with a good game plan and attacked the box to stop our run game. Our quarterback and receivers did a nice job making some things happen to adjust."
Boys soccer team falls in district final
The boys soccer team lost 2-0 to sixth-seeded Bexley in a Division II district final Oct. 26 at Westerville South to finish 13-5-1 overall.
Seeded third, the Golden Eagles had a first-round bye and beat 12th-seeded Johnstown 3-0 in the second round Oct. 17 at home and seventh-seeded Bloom-Carroll 3-0 in a district semifinal Oct. 22 at home before falling to Bexley.
Big Walnut, which made its third consecutive district final appearance and eighth in the last nine seasons, has not won a district title since 2008.
"It was a level game," coach Tim Poitinger said of the loss to Bexley. "Both teams played well. They hit two big plays and they kept us out of the net."
Poitinger stressed defense in his first season as coach, and the players responded the way he had hoped. The Golden Eagles, who opened the season with only six players with varsity experience, allowed 13 goals in 19 games and posted a program-record 12 shutouts.
"They adjusted well," Poit-inger said. "Because of the numbers we use to defend our net, it was difficult to score on us."
Big Walnut went 3-4 in the OCC-Capital to place fifth, behind New Albany (6-0-1), Worthington Kilbourne (5-0-2), Orange (5-1-1) and Olentangy (4-3) and ahead of Delaware Hayes (2-5), Mount Vernon (1-6), Franklin Heights (0-7).
"All the OCC conferences are tough," Poitinger said. "They're all loaded. Since we're the only Division II team in the conference, it's a tough road to win the league. The big suburban schools are loaded with club soccer players and high-level kids."
Big Walnut loses six seniors in defenders Max Denton and Luke Hartings, forwards Bradyn Dronsfield and Nathan Mickley, goalkeeper Tyler Sholl and defender/midfielder Dom-inic Zumpone.
Zumpone was named first-team all-league. Dronsfield was second-team all-league and Denton made special mention.
"We're losing pretty much our entire back line," Poitinger said. "(But) we have some good defenders in the pipeline."
Expected to return are juniors Bobby Bogantz (forward), Adam Carifa (forward), J.P. Civin (goalie), Iain Kirsch (midfielder), Tyler Ledbetter (midfielder), Anthony Pavuk (defender), Jacob Thompson (midfielder), Jason Vazquez (midfielder), Kevin Vazquez (midfielder) and Kyle Wurm (midfielder), sophomores Drew Cochran (midfielder), Jacob Hrusovsky (midfielder) and Taylor Kline (midfielder) and freshman Nick Flury (defender).
Bogantz was honorable mention all-league.
Girls soccer coach happy with season
First-year girls soccer coach Drew Pitzer said his team lived up to his expectations this season.
Big Walnut lost to second-seeded and host Bloom-Carroll 3-2 in a Division II district semifinal Oct. 19 to finish 9-7-2 overall.
Seeded sixth, the Golden Eagles had a first-round bye and beat 10th-seeded Centennial 12-0 in the second round Oct. 19 at home before coming up one goal short against Bloom-Carroll.
"I think the girls definitely did (live up to expectations)," Pitzer said. "Our goal early on was to get to the district championship (game). We were one game away from that, so (the players) should be commended. We came out and showed we still had some talent and (we) were a force."
Pitzer was impressed by his team's attitude after the tournament loss.
"Maybe in seasons past, (losing in a district semifinal) would have been good enough," he said. "It just wasn't like that this year. We lost, we didn't get to our end goal and (the players) were upset by that. It wasn't enough for them. They had their minds set on something and they wanted to achieve it."
Big Walnut went 1-4-1 in the OCC-Capital to tie Delaware for fifth, behind Orange (6-0), New Albany and Kilbourne (both 4-2) and Olentangy (3-2-1) and ahead of Mount Vernon (0-5-1).
The Golden Eagles beat Franklin Heights 9-0 on Oct. 3, but the game did not count in the league standings because the Falcons did not play a full league schedule for the second year in a row.
Big Walnut loses 11 seniors, including forward Skylar Fleak, midfielder Bailey Armstrong, defender Leah Shaw and goalie Mackenzie Pike.
Fleak led the team with 29 goals and made first-team all-league. Armstrong and Shaw made special mention and honorable mention all-league, respectively.
"That's a big class," Pitzer said of the seniors. "(Fleak) scored probably 90 percent of our goals. So what do you do? You look for the next player, the next man up. Will it hurt at first? Absolutely, but we're going to find a new formation and some new players and tackle our next challenge."
Expected to return are juniors Makenna Hammond (defender), Abby Tabor (midfielder) and Jennie Wenger (defender), sophomores Anna Mackey (forward) and Colleen White (goalie) and freshmen Madison Aleshire (midfielder) and Bailey Bodker (midfielder/forward).
Wenger made second-team all-league.
"We're going to be very young over the next couple seasons," Pitzer said. "But we're also going to be very hungry. The best thing for the younger girls was to see the seniors with that we're-not-done-yet attitude.
"Our momentum is going to be humongous going into next year. They're already talking about it."
Season ends for cross country teams
Bobby Bogantz was the only member of the cross country program to qualify for the Division I regional meet Oct. 26 at Pickerington North. Also a member of the boys soccer team, the junior did not compete at regional, opting to concentrate on the soccer team's game against Bexley in a district final that day.
"My coach was nice enough to let me show up to meets whenever I could so I could focus on soccer," he said.
Bogantz placed 23rd (17 minutes, 16.73 seconds) of 115 runners in the district 3 meet Oct. 19 at Watkins Memorial, as the top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to regional.
"I was really excited and surprised," Bogantz said. "Going into the district meet I wasn't expecting to make it out. I felt good that day. During the race I realized I was close so I pushed a little harder."
The boys team finished 11th (350 points) at district behind champion Lancaster (36) as 16 teams scored. Teays Valley (179) was the final regional qualifier.
Also scoring for the boys team were junior Jon Kahrmann (45th, 17:58.05), senior Logan Perry (87th, 19:20.58), senior Jacob Oppenheimer (91st, 19:26.85) and freshman Zach McDonald (107th, 21:02.6).
The girls team finished 15th (384) in district 3 behind champion Upper Arlington (64) as 17 teams scored. Dublin Coffman (148) was the final regional qualifier.
Junior Makenna Hemming led the Golden Eagles, fin-ishing 67th (22:16.5) of 120 runners.
Also scoring were junior Addison Shawver (71st, 22:32.96), senior Olivia Daggett (74th, 22:47.36), junior Mikaela Smith (82nd, 23:10.41) and senior Catie Craig-Bowden (90th, 23:54.13).
The boys team finished seventh (197) in the OCC-Capital meet Oct. 12 at Pickerington Central behind New Albany (27), Olentangy (48), Orange (68), Kilbourne (123), Mount Vernon (141) and Delaware (150) and ahead of Franklin Heights (227).
Kahrmann led the Golden Eagles, finishing 29th (18:19.91).
The girls team finished sixth (173) in the league meet, behind New Albany (29), Kilbourne (38), Olentangy (62), Delaware (113) and Orange (144) and ahead of Mount Vernon (189).
Franklin Heights did not have enough runners for a team score.
Hemming paced the Golden Eagles, finishing 34th (22:54.29).