The chase for the MSL-Ohio Division title wandered wildly into the final week of the regular season, and that's only the second time since 2003 a contender didn't have at least a share of the championship already locked up by then.

The chase for the MSL-Ohio Division title wandered wildly into the final week of the regular season, and that's only the second time since 2003 a contender didn't have at least a share of the championship already locked up by then.

In that first year of the MSL-Ohio, the Licking Valley and Whitehall high school football teams both had one loss entering its respective finales. So, first place remained up for grabs, as it should be in what has become one of central Ohio's most productive leagues, playoff-wise.

The Panthers dismantled Lakewood 54-6 in their 10th game just one week after seeing their 44-game regular-season winning streak end with a stunning loss at Granville, which promptly fell back to earth with a 42-14 loss at Whitehall as the Rams and Licking Valley split the crown.

Since then, there's been a shortage of drama in the MSL-Ohio, which has produced two state champions and a runner-up in six years. Eight of the nine teams that have been a part of the league have made the playoffs, including Heath this year. The other seven combined for 16 postseason berths from 2003-08.

The 2004 season offered considerable promise as a sequel until Licking Valley forfeited four wins for using an ineligible player. That included victories over Bexley and Columbus Academy, which a year earlier had set the tone for the league's excellence by capturing the Division V state title. Hence, New Albany rolled through the league schedule undefeated and already had at least a piece of the crown in hand before turning back the Lions 17-3 in the final week.

In 2005, both the Eagles and Licking Valley went to the final week sporting 9-0 overall records, and quite a showdown loomed in Hanover for the outright championship in what would be New Albany's swan song before entering the OCC the following year. The Panthers scored early, however, and the outcome in a 16-0 victory never really seemed to be in question.

By then, it simply had become Licking Valley's title to lose. Not even Newark Catholic in 2007, a year that saw the Green Wave ultimately collect its eighth state title overall in Division VI, could touch the Panthers, who won that year's meeting 32-0 and later advanced all the way to the Division III state final.

Licking Valley always seemed to be a touchdown ahead - at least from a mental perspective - even before the opening kickoff as its league winning streak eventually encompassed parts of six seasons overall and reached 34 games. That dominating run finally ended with a 35-12 loss on Oct. 2, back at Granville again no less, and seems to have helped bring back the drama we expected all along.

The Blue Aces and Academy thrived most in the post-Storm Klein era to share the MSL-Ohio lead at 5-1 each entering last Friday's finales against the Green Wave and Whitehall, respectively, and as recently as two weeks ago a scenario still existed that could have had as many as five teams tying for first place.

We've seen the Vikings rally from a 20-point second-half deficit to send Granville home with a 36-35 loss on Sept. 17, and we watched in awe as Heath's Charles Gresham ran for a school-record 404 yards and six touchdowns in a 47-27 win over Academy on Oct. 9.

Newark Catholic defeated the Panthers 34-21 on Oct. 16 to post its first win in the series since 1987, and that also marked the first time Licking Valley lost a league game at home since '98.

And any talk of fantastic finishes has to include failed two-point conversion attempts that determined the outcomes in Heath's 21-19 loss at Licking Valley on Sept. 25 and the Bulldogs' 28-27 victory over the Green Wave on Oct. 2.

Every week it seemed like there was something to enjoy and savor. Even Whitehall, which has had little to celebrate since the earliest days of the MSL-Ohio, got into the act by ending a 29-game league losing streak by stuffing Lakewood 13-12 on Oct. 16.

Licking Valley's vast credentials as the MSL-Ohio's preeminent program are to be revered and respected. But this year's balance, theatrics and late-season intrigue made the road to the final week more fun.