The Dublin Scioto High School football team has grown accustomed to facing opponents that traditionally make the playoffs.
Its schedule this season included five teams that qualified for the postseason, which helped propel the Irish to a playoff berth for the second consecutive year.
Seeded seventh in Division II, Region 5, Scioto lost to second-seeded and host Worthington Kilbourne 38-3 in the first round Nov. 8 to finish 6-5 overall.
Kilbourne improved to 10-1 and advanced to face third-seeded Zanesville in a regional semifinal Friday, Nov. 15.
"Our schedule is one of the things that made it a lot of fun every week because you had to be prepared every week," coach Karl Johnson said. "Your nonleague wins are critical to getting into the playoffs, which is the bottom line, and I think we had an opportunity to win every game, minus one."
Scioto opened the season against Kilbourne, beating the visiting Wolves 22-21 on Aug. 30 in the "Battle of Hard Road" for its fourth consecutive win in the series.
The Irish scored the winning touchdown with 23.2 seconds left, as running back Darius McDonald scored on an 8-yard pass from quarterback Nathan Densel on fourth-and-goal and defensive tackle Elijah Berry lined up at fullback and barreled into the end zone for the two-point conversion.
Kilbourne's defense dominated the rematch, holding the Irish to 73 total yards and intercepting Densel five times, with two of the interceptions being returned for touchdowns. Densel completed only five of 23 passes for 19 yards.
The other teams on Scioto's schedule that qualified for the playoffs were Coffman, Hilliard Darby, Marysville and Westerville Central. The Irish defeated Coffman 30-17 on Sept. 6 but lost to Marysville (30-28 on Sept. 13), Westerville Central (41-38 on Sept. 20) and Darby (28-17 on Oct. 18).
Marysville and Westerville Central made the playoffs in Division I, Region 1 and Coffman and Darby qualified in Division I, Region 2. Westerville Central and Coffman advanced to the second round Saturday, Nov. 15.
The loss to Darby ended Scioto's hopes for a share of the OCC-Cardinal Division title.
The Irish finished 4-3 in the league to place fourth, behind Westerville Central (7-0), Darby (6-1) and Hilliard Bradley (5-2) and ahead of Westerville South (3-4), Jerome (2-5), Westerville North (1-6) and Canal Winchester (0-7).
The Irish offense, which averaged 29.2 points, was led by Densel. The junior finished with 2,387 total yards, completing 184 of 312 passes for 1,969 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and rushing for 418 yards and four touchdowns on 121 carries, and was named second-team all-league.
"There's a lot of learning that goes on getting put into the fire," Johnson said of Densel, a first-year starter. "I thought he did a good job of attacking where we want to attack and learning what we wanted to do as an offense. He played tough every week. Obviously, he has things he wants to work on and improve."
McDonald was the team's top rusher and receiver. The senior rushed for 471 yards and five touchdowns on 114 carries and had 52 receptions for 497 yards and four scores and made second-team all-league.
Densel's other main targets were senior wide receiver Cody Steffy (30 catches, 254 yards) and junior wide receiver Dan Carney (21 catches, 319 yards).
Berry, who had 52.5 tackles and a team-high 10 sacks, and junior linebacker Nick Conner (team-high 129 tackles, 7 sacks) led the defense, which allowed an average of 26.5 points. Both were named first-team all-league, as was junior defensive lineman Brennen Sawicki (49 tackles, 2 sacks) and senior punter Matt Messick (34.4-yard average).
Junior Sam Crosa, a three-year starter, made five of six field-goal attempts and all 28 extra-point attempts and was second-team all-league.
Also earning all-league honors were senior defensive back Spencer Talentino (75 tackles, second team), senior defensive lineman Isaiah Robinson (51.5 tackles, 4 sacks, special mention) and senior offensive lineman Jacob Schafer (honorable mention).
"You're always going to miss the seniors, but we have a quite a few guys returning and, as long as we work hard in the weight room, we should have a good nucleus and a senior class which has been to the playoffs the past two years," Johnson said. "If I'm an underclassman, I'm really hungry because we open with Kilbourne in week one next year."