The Gahanna Lincoln High School football team made it back to the playoffs a year ago and followed by battling this season for a postseason berth, but the ending left the Lions wanting.
After winning its first five games and seven of its first eight, Gahanna fell to Pickerington North 42-0 on Oct. 19.
Then on Oct. 26 in their regular-season finale against visiting Pickerington Central, the Lions couldn't hold a 17-point lead and lost 28-23.
The 7-3 overall finish forced Gahanna to settle for 11th in the Division I, Region 3 computer ratings and out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. The top eight teams qualified for the postseason.
"I wouldn't say that we were very happy with it," junior defensive back Emile Camm said. "One of our big goals was obviously that we wanted to make the playoffs. Pickerington Central was a tough loss. (Going) 7-3 isn't bad, but we all think we deserved better."
Gahanna's other loss came at Reynoldsburg, 21-7 on Sept. 28.
The Lions tied Grove City for fourth in the OCC-Ohio Division at 4-3, behind co-champions Pickerington Central and Pickerington North (6-1) as well as Reynoldsburg (5-2) and ahead of Lancaster (2-5), Newark (1-6) and Groveport (0-7).
Camm is among a small group of key players eligible to return. He had seven interceptions, averaged 13.1 yards on punt returns and made special mention all-district.
The Lions also expect to return their top two receivers in juniors Kevin Randolph (38 catches for 374 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Valquez Davis (35 catches for 468 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Junior offensive linemen Ben Foley and Lane Lightle also were starters.
Sophomore Vasean Davis was Gahanna's third-leading rusher with 170 yards and two touchdowns despite playing in just five games.
"We're really excited about next year," Camm said. "(The junior class is) ready to lead our team and we've got quite a bit of talent coming back."
"Our freshman team finished really strong and our (junior varsity) went 5-3," coach John Snoad said. "We're going to be super young next year. There could be a number of seniors who are playing next year, but it's going to be raw talent."
The biggest losses among the 25 seniors are defensive lineman Granyl Smith and linebacker Mitchell Rowell. Both made first-team all-district and all-league.
Smith led in tackles for losses with 21.5. Rowell was the team's leading tackler with 76, and he had 17 tackles for losses and seven sacks.
Senior linebacker Connor Prusz, who was first-team all-league and special mention all-district, had 52 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses.
Senior linebacker Nathan Strong was second-team all-league after finishing with 9.5 tackles for losses and 44.5 tackles.
The other second-team all-league choice was senior quarterback Alec Tuohy, who was 134-for-245 passing for 1,452 yards with 10 touchdowns and rushed for 637 yards and two touchdowns.
Tuohy, Valquez Davis and Randolph were honorable mention all-district.
Senior Justin Akindele (8.5 tackles for losses) was special mention all-league.
Senior Parker Cavendish had 19 receptions for 215 yards and one touchdown, was the team's punter and had 16 tackles on defense. He made honorable mention all-league.
The Lions' second-leading rusher was senior Geoffrey Helms II, who had 353 yards and six touchdowns on 82 carries for a spread offense built around the passing game.
Senior Colin Blaney started on the offensive line and made six of nine field-goal attempts and 26 of 27 extra points.
Junior Floyd Lowe and sophomore Ronald Robinson are the leading candidates to take over at quarterback, but Lowe attempted just one pass this season and Robinson passed only five times.
"There were a lot of positives but a lot of trials and tribulations this year," Snoad said. "We never really exploded, except for the Upper Arlington game (a 45-7 win Sept. 7). We were in every game except for the Pickerington North game until the end."