The Delaware Hayes High School football team fell one win shy of posting its first winning season in four years.
The Pacers closed the season with a 27-9 loss to Olentangy on Nov. 1 to finish 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Capital Division. They had finished 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the league in each of the past three seasons after going 6-4 and 4-3 in 2009.
"Our attitude and work ethic were great all season, as was our enthusiasm and effort," said coach Zebb Schroeder, who completed his third season leading the program. "Unfortunately, with the number of injuries we suffered, we had far too many guys playing both ways most of the season and that limited us to the mixed results."
Delaware placed fifth in the OCC-Capital, behind Worthington Kilbourne (7-0), New Albany (6-1), Olentangy (5-2) and Mount Vernon (4-3) and ahead of Big Walnut (2-6), Olentangy Orange (1-7) and Franklin Heights (0-8).
"Regardless of our records, I was really proud because I think we took a big step in getting this program headed in the right direction," Schroeder said. "We were much improved on defense and in special teams. I only wish we could've performed better offensively, but the injury bug hurt us bad there.
"We planned on using (junior) Cody Wooten and (senior) Anthony Hinton substantially. They were our top slotbacks and they didn't play five full games combined between them. The implications were massive because we weren't just missing their talents, but then we had to use (junior) Ernest Bonsu and (senior) Theoun Sorn both ways. We would've liked to have seen how good we could've been if we stayed healthy."
Against Olentangy, senior quarterback Jante Wright connected with senior slotback Caleb Howell on a 31-yard touchdown pass with four minutes left in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 14-9, but that was as close as the Pacers would get.
The Braves, who finished 8-2, scored their final two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
"We just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, but I'm proud of our guys for the way they played against a very good Olentangy team," Schroeder said.
The Pacers got out to a strong start on the season, beating Buckeye Valley 51-0 in their opener Aug. 30 and Canal Winchester 23-7 on Sept. 6. However, Wooten and Hinton both suffered knee injuries in the latter game.
Delaware then lost to Dublin Jerome 41-0 on Sept. 13 and fell to Kilbourne 42-7 in its league opener Sept. 20 before beating Big Walnut 21-0 on Sept. 27. It alternated wins and losses the rest of the season, losing to New Albany 31-9 on Oct. 4, beating Orange 17-14 on Oct. 11, losing to Mount Vernon 42-28 on Oct. 18 and defeating Franklin Heights 41-6 on Oct. 25 before falling to Olentangy.
"The loss to Mount Vernon stung and was a game we could've won," Schroeder said. "That prevented us from having a winning season."
The Pacers lose 24 seniors, including their entire offensive line in center Shawn Johnson, tackles Gaige Linville and Andrew Sierawski and guards Collin Wittig, Jackson Boger and Reece Kotaka. Boger and Kotaka split starts at right guard.
Other offensive starters lost are Wright, Howell, Sorn and wide receiver Zach Glascox.
On the season, Wright was 21-for-40 passing for 286 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions and had 453 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 108 carries. He was named special mention all-league.
Howell ran for 224 yards on 25 carries and had 12 receptions for 228 yards and four touchdowns and was second-team all-league, and Sorn had 53 carries for 250 yards and caught three passes for 19 yards.
Wittig was second-team all-league and Johnson was honorable mention all-league.
Delaware loses six starters on defense in Howell (FS), Johnson (LB), Linville (DT), Sorn (CB), Nick Shaver (SS) and James Wegmiller (DE).
Two other seniors, Connor Ulmer (DB) and Michael Sweeney (TE), were part-time starters and key contributors.
"The toughest part with losing this class is the amount of experience they had and the caliber of young men they are," Schroeder said. "Many of those guys are three-year starters and they're all great leaders and phenomenal people. I have no doubt we'll find size, speed and strength to replace them, but their leadership is another thing altogether. They definitely left their mark on this program."
Among the expected key returnees are Bonsu (RB/LB), Wooten (RB), juniors Josh Daughenbaugh (LB), Brandon McConaha (CB), Lamar Rhymes (DT) and Joseph Sanfillipo (K/P) and sophomore Ethan Tucky (DE).
Tucky led the team in tackles (48) and sacks (4) and was first-team all-league. Sanfillipo made three of four field-goal attempts and 25 of 27 extra-point attempts and averaged 36.3 yards per punt and was second-team all-league.
Bonsu rushed for 322 yards on 94 carries.
Daughenbaugh and Bonsu both had 35.5 tackles and Rhymes had 33.
Schroeder expects juniors Austen Kimbro, Drew Louck, Matt Persinger, Shane Sand and Kyle Willis to fill the voids on the offensive line next season.
"Those guys will have to step up and I believe they will," Schroeder said. "We've got some talent coming back and we have decisions to make. We've got options in the backfield because (sophomores) Caleb Cooper and Sean Gliebe will be there, along with Bonsu and Wooten."