Led by a strong senior class, the Dublin Scioto High School football team rebounded from its worst season in its 18-year history.
A year after finishing 2-8, the Irish went 8-3, placed second in the challenging OCC-Cardinal Division and made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and seventh time overall.
Coach Karl Johnson knew his team had the potential to bounce back, as it had a three-year starting quarterback in senior Evan DeMars, a bruising running back in senior Will Houston, a big-play wide receiver in senior Tim Shadoan and a defense that was expected to be much-improved and physical.
Seeded sixth in Division I, Region 3, Scioto lost to third-seeded Olentangy 21-17 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 3.
"We played in a lot of big games and they made for a very fun season," said Johnson, who completed his 13th season leading the program. "In all phases of the game, we made significant improvements. The seniors were committed to it in the offseason and (that) carried into the summer. They were all about doing it together."
Scioto was stopped less than a yard short of advancing to a regional semifinal, as senior wide receiver Mason Matheny caught a pass from DeMars on fourth-and-goal from the 18-yard line and was tackled by Olentangy defensive back Ramal Iverson inside the 1 with 12 seconds remaining.
The Irish's other losses came against Coffman (34-14 on Aug. 31) in the teams' first meeting since 2007 and Hilliard Darby (28-24 on Oct. 12). Darby and Coffman were seeded first and second in the Region 3 playoffs.
The loss to Darby ultimately decided the OCC-Cardinal championship. Scioto went 6-1 in the league to place second, behind Darby (7-0) and ahead of Westerville South (5-2), Westerville Central (4-3), Jerome (3-4), Worthington Kilbourne (2-5), Hilliard Bradley (1-6) and Westerville North (0-7).
In addition to Scioto and Darby, South also made the Region 3 playoffs and Central finished ninth in the region, one spot shy of a playoff berth. The Irish defeated South 42-35 on Sept. 28 and beat Central 34-14 on Sept. 14.
Scioto, which was seeking its first OCC title since 2003, nearly had to settle for tying for second in the league with South and likely would have missed the playoffs if not for holding on to beat Bradley 28-27 on Oct. 19.
The Jaguars scored a touchdown on the final play of the game to pull within one point. Instead of attempting the extra point that would have sent the game to overtime, they opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win. However, tight end Bradley Spelman dropped the pass in the end zone, giving the Irish the win.
"We found out just how tough our league was week in and week out," DeMars said. "Every week was a battle and three teams from our (league) made the playoffs, but we had the mindset of turning this program around and we did that."
Scioto concluded the regular season with a 24-7 win over host Kilbourne on Oct. 26 in the "Battle of Hard Road." The victory was the Irish's third in a row in the series, which Kilbourne leads 11-8.
Scioto, which is losing 25 seniors, ran a no-huddle, spread offense and averaged 33.5 points. DeMars completed 235 of 347 passes for 2,666 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, setting single-season program records for completions, yards and touchdowns. He was named second-team all-district and first-team all-league.
DeMars finished his career with programs records for yards passing (5,658) and touchdown passes (43).
Shadoan, who shared OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year honors with Darby's Caleb Day and Jerome's Donovan Wilson, caught a program-record 81 passes for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 237 yards and nine touchdowns on 44 carries.
Shadoan was first-team all-district and finished with a career-record 121 receptions.
Matheny caught 37 passes for 413 yards and was special mention all-league. Junior wide receiver Darius McDonald had 45 receptions for 383 yards and two touchdowns and junior wide receiver Cody Steffy had 24 catches for 160 yards and three scores.
"All of those guys were sure-handed receivers," Johnson said, "but Tim had a knack for getting into the open space and he and Evan had a good connection."
Houston (6-foot-1, 250 pounds) rushed for 1,151 yards on 245 carries and had 12 touchdowns and was special mention all-district and first-team all-league.
Scioto was experienced on the offensive and defensive lines and is losing four lineman in seniors Mason Sawicki (6-1, 265), Joey Monda (5-11, 190), Eddie Huff (5-6, 200) and David McCruter (5-9, 210).
Sawicki was first-team all-district on defense and first-team all-league, Monda was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league and Huff and McCruter were second-team all-league.
Expected to return on the lines are sophomores Brennen Sawicki (6-2, 250), who was second-team all-league, and Jacob Schafer (5-11, 240), who started at center.
The defense was led by junior linebacker Troy Zimmerman, who had a team-high 131 tackles and was special mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Senior defensive back Shawn Snow was special mention all-league and junior defensive back Spencer Talentino was honorable mention all-league.
Other defensive players expected to return include junior linebackers Jack Flood and Elijah Berry, junior lineman Kenny Coleman, sophomore lineman Kevin Sanabria and sophomore linebacker Nick Conner.
Sophomore kicker Sam Crosa made 11 of 13 field goals with a long of 42 yards and made 46 of 47 extra-point attempts. He was special mention all-district and second team all-league.
"I certainly hope there is more success to come," Johnson said. "These guys have tasted it and they know what it takes to win."