Mike Carter's voice cracked with emotion as he talked to his Johnstown-Monroe High School football team in the west end zone of John D. Sulsberger Memorial Stadium on Nov. 16.
It wasn't easy for the coach to say goodbye to this group of Johnnies following a 37-29 loss to St. Clairsville in the Division IV, Region 15 final at Zanesville.
With a berth in a state semifinal on the line, third-seeded Johnstown kept fighting despite trailing 24-7 at halftime, rallying to within 24-21 with 7 minutes, 41 seconds remaining.
But it wasn't enough against the top-seeded Red Devils.
"I'm extremely proud of the way these kids fought to the end," said Carter, who completed his 11th season. "It's a true testament to the type of kids that we have. They believe in the values of being a team and in hard work, and that showed (against St. Clairsville)."
The Johnnies held the Red Devils, who improved to 13-0, under 40 points for the first time this season.
St. Clairsville quarterback Matt Kinnick connected with Jerrid Marhefka on a 66-yard touchdown pass with 7:00 to play to regain momentum for his team and give it a 31-21 lead. The play came 41 seconds after senior quarterback Tyler Thompson had scored his third of four touchdowns for the Johnnies, who finished 10-3 overall a year after going 13-1 and losing to Creston Norwayne 59-28 in a state semifinal.
The Red Devils scored on four of their first five possessions. Kinnick rushed for a 13-yard touchdown and threw scoring passes of 12 yards to Michael Ferns and 21 yards to Marhefka, and Zach Musilli kicked a 21-yard field goal.
"You can prep for an offense like this, but the speed of the game is something you have to adjust to," Carter said. "We were able to clear our heads and keep playing football."
Thompson rushed for 124 yards on 25 carries, with touchdowns of 31, 15, 23 and 9 yards. He also was 3-for-13 passing for 59 yards and two interceptions. Sophomore running back Cody Farley ran 20 times for 111 yards and senior wide receiver Scott Sammons caught two passes for 36 yards.
For the Red Devils, Kinnick was 15-for-30 passing for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Jaylon Brown rushed for 150 yards on 27 carries and caught five passes for 80 yards. Marhefka had five receptions for 112 yards.
The Johnnies defeated Ironton 42-7 in a regional semifinal Nov. 9 at Athens and beat visiting Gnadenhutten Indian Valley 24-21 on Nov. 2 in the opening round of the playoffs.
Johnstown finished second (6-1) in the MBC behind Danville (7-0) and ahead of Loudonville (5-2), Centerburg (3-4), East Knox (3-4), Fredericktown (3-4), Northridge (1-6) and Utica (0-7). The MBC will disband after this school year, and Johnstown will play in the Licking County League next fall.
Farley (first-team all-district) led the Johnnies in rushing with 1,792 yards and 16 touchdowns on 285 carries. Thompson (first-team all-district and all-league) had 1,184 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on 171 carries and was 34-for-90 passing for 655 yards with six touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Senior fullback Adam Carter (second-team all-league) rushed for 626 yards and eight scores on 111 carries. Senior wingback Bailey Duncan caught five passes for 96 yards and one touchdown.
Senior wide receiver Nick Sadinsky (first-team all-league) caught 10 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns and had six interceptions as a first-team all-district defensive back.
University at Buffalo recruit Corbin Grassman (first-team all-league) had 10 receptions for 151 yards and one score at tight end, and the senior had a team-high 131 tackles with four sacks as a first-team all-district linebacker.
Senior guard Dakota Crawford was first-team all-district and honorable mention all-league. Senior two-way lineman Tim Sayer (39 tackles, 5 sacks) was special mention all-district and first-team all-league. Seniors Justin Mooney and Brandon Dingess also started on the offensive line.
Senior linebacker Daniel Mark Almendinger had 77 tackles with four fumble recoveries, and senior defensive lineman Garrett Holter had 57 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. Senior Preston Hiles was a kickoff specialist and also caught a 26-yard touchdown pass against Ironton.
"You couldn't have asked for a better group of young men than our seniors," coach Carter said. "They were great leaders in practice, and that carried over to the way they played on Friday nights."
In addition to Farley, key players expected to return include junior defensive lineman Clayton Bullard, who was first-team all-district with 20 sacks, 117 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Junior punter Charles Benton was first-team all-district, averaging 35 yards per attempt. He also made 35 extra points and three field goals.
Possibly in line to replace Thompson at quarterback is junior Josh Kirkpatrick, who was 2-for-4 passing for 22 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions and ran for 63 yards on 10 carries.
Other key players expected back include juniors Sam Branstool (WR/DB), Aaron Davis (OL), Loren Queen (LB), Alex Workman (RB/DB) and Logan Writesel (OL/DL), sophomores Brendan Barasch (DB), Zach Fleming (RB/LB), Marcus Nogaj (TE/DB), Joey Norris (DL) and Jake Taylor (DL) and freshman Alex Catalogna (DT).
"You saw how the young'uns played out there (against St. Clairsville)," coach Carter said. "They gave it all they got and did a great job of preparing for each and every game. They're going to work hard in the offseason and be ready to make things happen on Friday nights next season."