During the preseason, Hilliard Davidson High School football coach Brian White wasn't certain of his team's potential.
The Wildcats had lost 31 players to graduation, including several key starters on both sides of the ball, and the coaching staff didn't think the returnees had prepared properly during the offseason.
After starting 2-2, it didn't appear as though Davidson would achieve its goals of winning the OCC-Central Division championship and qualifying for the playoffs.
But after a 33-10 loss to Dublin Coffman on Sept. 14, the Wildcats won their final six regular-season games to earn a share of the OCC-Central title and secure a playoff berth, their fifth in a row and ninth in the last 10 seasons.
Seeded seventh in Division I, Region 3, Davidson won its first two playoff games before losing to fourth-seeded Pickerington North 21-0 in the regional final Nov. 17 at Ohio Wesleyan University to finish 10-3 overall.
"It was a great year," White said. "Nobody expected us to be here. For us to come out and play pretty well against these guys is a testament to our kids and how hard they work and how much they believe in themselves. I can't tell you how proud I am of the senior class. They did a great job. We have a great junior class coming back. It was a really good year all the way around in a lot of different ways."
Davidson avenged its loss to Coffman by beating the second-seeded Shamrocks 17-14 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 3 at Coffman. It then defeated third-seeded Olentangy 29-14 in a regional semifinal Nov. 10 at Upper Arlington.
The Wildcats went 6-1 in the OCC-Central to tie Coffman for first, ahead of Olentangy Liberty (5-2), UA (5-2), Marysville (3-4), Thomas Worthington (2-5), Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).
The league title was their third in a row and 13th overall.
Davidson struggled to sustain drives against Pickerington North, as it entered the Panthers' territory only three times.
Junior running back D.D. Clark led the Wildcats' offense with 98 yards rushing on 24 carries. The team's leading rusher, senior running back E.J. Jennings, ran for 41 yards on 17 carries.
Jennings played despite having a broken bone in his right foot. According to White, the injury occurred in the fourth quarter against Olentangy.
"E.J. stepped up and showed some real mental and physical toughness," said White, whose team's other loss came against Hilliard Darby, 17-3 on Aug. 31. "He was in a boot and on crutches all week long and I never thought he would be able to do what he did (against Pickerington North)."
Jennings, who missed the final eight games last season with a broken left ankle, is one of 14 seniors for the Wildcats. He rushed for 1,596 yards and 24 touchdowns on 312 carries and was named first-team all-district. He also shared OCC-Central Player of the Year honors with Coffman defensive lineman Miles McCollum.
"I think we exceeded our potential," Jennings said. "Hard work pays off, so we just kept plugging at it. After the losses to Darby and Coffman, we just forced it ahead."
Also making first-team all-league were seniors Travis Doty (LB), Nick Waters (QB/DB/K/P) and Nick Wright (OL/DL) and juniors Alex Backenstoe (TE/DL) and Jared Johns (OL/DL).
Clark, who finished with 853 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 149 carries, and juniors Travis Brown (LB), Phillipie Motley (WR/DB) and Nick Stull (DB) were second-team all-league.
Juniors Parker Foard (DB) and Max Paazig (OL/DL) were special mention all-league and senior Morrice Brewer (DL) was honorable mention all-league.
Johns also was first-team all-district on offense and Backenstoe was second-team all-district on defense. Wright was special mention all-district and Doty and Waters were honorable mention all-district.
"We definitely have some holes to fill, but we are a little ahead of where we were coming into this year," said White, who shared OCC-Central Coach of the Year honors with Coffman's Mark Crabtree. "We have a lot more kids coming back this coming year than what we had this year, so if they commit to the offseason, which is always up in the air with high school kids, we'll see what next year holds in store for us."